HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
March 26, 2007, Herald Journal

Russ and Carol: leading by example

By IVAN RACONTEUR

It is widely know that I am not very enthusiastic about dog-and-pony shows like weddings or anniversary parties, but I recently attended one that I didn’t mind a bit.

It was the 50th wedding anniversary of my aunt and uncle, and, not only are milestones like this uncommon, but Russ and Carol are very special people.

We often hear about “the institution of marriage,” and in their case, it really is an institution.

It is an institution that goes far beyond two people.

They have four children of their own, but they have an incredibly broad view of the concept of family.

For Russ and Carol, family includes friends, neighbors, and a wide range of assorted others who they have met during their half-century together.

Their warmth and humor make them popular, and they have dedicated their lives to making sure that no one is left out.

Their home has always been a welcoming place, where friends and relatives from far and wide meet whenever they are in the area.

Like all good partnerships, Russ and Carol have complimentary skills.

Carol is one of the world’s great listeners. She is easy to talk to, and listens with empathy and without judgement.

Russ is analytical and a compulsive problem-solver. He is a talented negotiator, and is able to break things down to their essential elements.

They are both wonderful teachers, and have been mentors for countless people over the years, myself included.

They have a special way with young people and are able to communicate with kids without talking down to them.

This is reflected in the stories of children, some of them now successful adults, who grew up thinking of Russ and Carol as a bonus set of parents or grandparents.

Russ and Carol have a way of making those around them better.

By engaging people, and leading by example, they help people to reach their full potential.

They are wonderful cheerleaders, and have a genuine enthusiasm for the accomplishments of others.

One young neighbor noted with pride that Russ and Carol have never missed her school recitals. Events like this might be easy for some of us to blow off as unimportant, but, to a 9-year-old girl, being able to count on seeing the friendly faces of her neighbors in the audience is clearly a big deal.

They have a way of providing opportunities for learning, and the lessons they teach can last a lifetime.

They taught me to cross-country ski, and our ski trips together on sunny afternoons and moonlit nights along the river forever changed the way I look at winter.

Russ introduced me to golf, and was patient while I learned the game (and it should be noted that my golf ability would test the patience of a saint).

He also taught me plumbing and other home-improvement skills when I was young, so I was comfortable working on my own house later.

Carol shared her shopping savvy with me, and explained not just what she did, but how she decided where and when to purchase certain items.

Both Russ and Carol have always been available to share advice on education and careers, and have helped many people achieve goals in these areas.

Lest one might be wondering why this is important, and why one should care, we should put it into a larger context.

Many of the problems that we face, and many of the crimes we hear about, are caused by people who are isolated or disconnected.

Sometimes, all we need is someone to open our eyes to the possibilities in life.

People like Russ and Carol seldom make headlines, but they are the ultimate role models.

Sports figures and celebrities occupy much of our collective attention, but they do not have much relevance for most of us.

We are exposed to many things that promote divisiveness, but some very special individuals focus on bringing people together.

People who have the ability to make connections and build bridges between a wide variety of individuals who would otherwise never get together, make the world a bit smaller, brighter, and safer.

When people know that someone out there cares about them, they begin to believe in themselves.

When people begin to care about those around them, they are less likely to feel isolated or resort to crime.

One wonders how many senseless acts of violence or vandalism could have been prevented if those involved had been exposed to better role models.

This does not suggest that we should discount personal responsibility, but there are some people who are on the edge, and just need someone to show them the correct path.

No amount of government intervention can accomplish what private individuals can do.

We need more people like Russ and Carol.

We need people who make a difference, instead of making excuses.

Listening to the stories during the anniversary party, it was clear that Russ and Carol, in their own quiet way, have touched many lives over the years.

Changing the world we live in is not a matter of grand gestures. It happens slowly, one life at a time, and it is the product of people who care.

They will probably never see the full extent of the good things they have done, and it is unlikely that they would accept credit for it if they did.

These are the true heroes. They live their lives based on old-fashioned principles, like integrity and responsibility, and they do make a difference.