Executive Director's Corner

Ross King

Ross King

The Wonders of DNA

My father, William R. (Bill) King, passed away on March 15, 2017, surrounded by his immediate family. Dad was 86 years old and was in failing health after a fall in December 2016.

The passing of a loved one typically triggers periods of reflection which can be limited in scope or expand a lifetime. I lift up my father not as a means of personal privilege but instead to amplify how each of us should pause momentarily and think about our respective life paths while we are on this earth. As I wrote my father’s obituary, I was struck by how life is defined by family, profession and personal interests within the bookends of our birthdate and day of passing. The story is often very brief in nature and includes language about funerals/celebrations of life and family desires for memorials. As each of you know, though there is so much more that can be told – it is simply our tradition to present an abbreviated life snapshot in the form of a written obituary.

My father was born in Mason City, Iowa, and lived by simple means with his mother, father, older sister and brother. Each preceded him in passing and all – with the exception of his mother – experienced life challenges attributed to many distinct factors. Dad very simply had a choice of taking one of two paths in life – he could have easily been surrounded by his limited opportunities as a young man and remained trapped in that grip of life. He instead was, in his own words, very fortunate to have a couple of significant life mentors pull him aside and hold him accountable. They simply gave him a road map and said that he could (not would) enjoy a successful life, one not absent of heavy lifting and hard work. He understood that his educational path was critical and, fortunately, was able to transfer into East High School in Des Moines, Iowa, for his all-important final years. He then faithfully served his country in the U.S. Nay as a medical corpsman for four years including a stint overseas as well as at the prestigious Bethesda Naval Hospital. He saw a great deal of suffering and was forced to mature quickly during those years of military service. I am convinced that this period engrained memories into his mind which, in part, compelled him to return to civilian life where he immediately went into higher education at the University of Iowa where he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science.

Upon graduation, the mentorship continued and Dad was afforded an excellent opportunity to join the federal government where he ventured into the world of public sector training. He consumed his mentorship opportunities and realized that he could build upon his extroverted character by pacing himself carefully. Professional advancement took him to Illinois, Missouri, New York, and eventually to Tennessee where he retired from the federal government in 1986. His professional path allowed him to interact with individuals such as Pres. Harry Truman; then Majority Leader George Bush; a number of U.S. Congressmen; Frank Bane, the first director of the Social Security Administration; Clint Hill, the Secret Service agent who many vividly recall from his heroic service in Dallas, TX, on November 22, 1963, when he rushed from a trail car to protect Mrs. Kennedy during the assassination of Pres. Kennedy; and many other dignitaries. He and his highly professional staff were responsible for training upwards of 25,000 mid- to upper-level federal agency employees in two and three week topical seminars.

Dad was a very proud bureaucrat, back in the day when that word was not considered negative or disparaging, and he applied himself daily to making a difference in the lives of those he came into contact with on a constant basis. He had a profound presence wherever he went because he truly enjoyed being on the stage of life.

While I have described Dad’s professional life it is vital that I more importantly note that he was married to my mother Joanne for 63 years, and besides yours truly, raised three daughters. He had a profound musical talent as a bass soloist and enjoyed his music ministry for decades with my mother who accompanied him on the piano. Their musical time together began when they met in a high school choir where Mom played the piano. I would not, for a second, suggest that life was consistently joyous – like all of us there were many life challenges throughout his life. What I will underscore is that he was bound and determined to provide for his family while making his profession stronger than when he entered that line of work. He was even more determined to leave his mark on this earth!

The bond that I had with my father was not especially strong but that, in part, was by design. He knew that I watched his actions, heard his words and understood his deeds. He was proud of his family and often shared that with others more than within the family unit. It was simply how he was raised, and after many years, I grew to understand that. As his health declined we had several very empowering discussions. In his last months I worked hard to ensure he understood that I was taking care of his affairs and that Mom, along with the rest of us, would be fine. I told him that he was a “good man – who I was very proud of”. Two days before he passed, we had a final conversation where I knew that he was at peace with God and he knew that he could rest peacefully. He expressed his love and then told me that he was experiencing some pain. I assured him of my love for him and said that I would sure that the pain would subside soon and he would not suffer. His expression of relief was clear and he began his new journey 48 hours later.

My life path matches in part what I have shared above about my father – little surprise given the power of DNA. We are individuals and have distinct life stories which we write and amend every day. Far too much to fit into an obituary indeed – only we know the story of our respective walks of life. Given that fact, I encourage everyone to spend time reflecting on where you have been and where you want to go. Grab that elusive sense of joy and make a positive impact on those you come into contact with – it will fill your hear with peace and tranquility.

Many of our readers have had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Rob Williams who is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Ethics and Leadership in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University. Dr. Williams worked with ACCG on our original strategic plan as well as with various divisions within ACCG for staff development. He is a renowned facilitator and leadership development instructor for both the public and private sectors.

The outpouring of sympathy to my family from throughout Georgia and the country regarding my father’s passing has been deeply valued and touched my family’s collective hear. While I could fill up this magazine with words that have been shared I wanted to specifically lift up a message sent to me by Dr. Williams. He spoke to me directly about the relationship between a father and son, and with his permission, I took the liberty to edit his words to make his message apply to mothers and daughters.

“Hi Ross, I am sorry to hear about your father. With many opportunities to heart the stories of individuals in leadership roles, I am struck by how their relationship with their parent was a ‘North Star’ for so many of their perceptions, values, competencies, interests, parenting behaviors, vocations, relationships and other key components of their lives. It does not seem to matter – in one sense – how positive or negative, how functional or dysfunctional, how short or long-term, or whether we used that ‘North Star’ to guide our travels toward or away from that reference point. I have never felt that any of those individuals were a clone of their parent. They were almost to a person, comparing themselves to the project – rather than the reality – of their offspring. All of that said to underscore the loss we experience as individuals upon the death of our parents.”

Dr. Rob Williams, Center for Ethics and Leadership
J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University