More and more I believe everyone is great in their own way. Sometimes a person’s excellence is easily apparent to even the most casual observer, sometimes only the most intimate friends know what makes a person uniquely excellent in one or more qualities. A friend of the town of Sharon just made his transition yesterday and leaves many who knew him to miss him, for now, and then to wonder how we will fill the gap of excellence that he leaves behind.
George Bailey (not the fictional one in the picture) was a man committed to his family, friends, town, and state—roughly in that order. He developed an encyclopedic knowledge of everything he had an interest in and an equally impressive recall to provide constant, ready access to his experiences and knowledge. In matters of civics, he knew in detail the relevant sections of the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and then went about making them available to all those who needed his gift. I suspect that the town of Sharon benefited from George’s mastery of his interests more on a daily basis than did any of the other state agencies and task forces that called upon him to be a member or consultant. During the course of my first 23 years as a resident of Sharon I never served on a committee with George. However, one could not live in Sharon and profess even the slightest modicum of involvement in the town without becoming aware of the value of his amazing recall and total commitment to the progress of the town. He was a fixture at Town Meeting, all the nights of Town Meeting, and could remember key issues, votes, positions, proponents, opponents and virtually any other detail of seemingly every Town Meeting he ever attended – to include the incredible number of Town Meetings he had attended! George’s voice would emanate from the TV in the evening as I passed through the living room and I would know that my wife, Abigail Marsters, was watching a town committee meeting of some sort on the local access cable channel. Abigail and George served on the Charter Commission together and she would often tell me of the nights where George would gently remind the committee or someone being interviewed by the committee of a recollection of a meeting twenty or more years ago that became the foundation for an amendment of those General Laws so that they now define what the committee is charged to do.
Abigail and I recently had the pleasure of speaking with George and his wonderful wife Lucy at a mutual friend’s Christmas party. This was one of the most extended conversations we had ever had with George, and probably the only one that included little to no town politics. The only current events we spoke of were his recent diagnosis of leukemia and the chemo treatments that were soon to start. For the most part, though, George regaled us with tales from that rich trove of memories he had gained as a sailor, a mass transit advocate, a college student, and so many other roles. More than anything I remember thinking, “This is a life well lived!” At some point in the evening before Lucy took him home to rest, George mentioned that he would probably need a mask the next time he saw us as the chemo would weaken his immune system. Karin and David Hagan, our hosts that evening, picked up on that and immediately thought that we should decorate masks for George so when he did host friends at his bedside, he could do it in style and with humor. So just last week David, Karin, Abigail and I met for dinner and a mask decoration session for George.
Unfortunately, the masks were not allowed into the hospital, but George heard about them from his family. And while George had invested heavily, and unwittingly, into being a truly great human being, he was still a human being. And that human left us yesterday. I have been blessing him and his soul that it may make the transition smoothly. I suspect as wise as George was, he knew well of his spiritual nature and was at peace with the process of going back to pure spirit. I now direct my thoughts to his family, and to the town. For while I know that grief will be replaced by joy in having been blessed to know this man we called George Bailey, the many committees of people, the entire town for that matter, will be feeling the loss of his experience for many years to come.
I know there are some who never perceived the greatness of George Bailey. Being a man of principle he had to take a stand on issues and sometimes that positioned him in opposition to his neighbors. But for those who did, immediately or eventually, take heart. George taught us all that person with a calm demeanor and respectful attitude, embodied in a thoughtful listener, and motivated by an inquisitive nature could make quite a mark on this world. Thank you for that lesson George.