Several years ago as a side gig, I taught a college writing class to about a dozen freshmen, all of them destined to do well after graduating. I spent most of our time together honing their word skills, but one class session fell on Valentine’s Day, which prompted a brief discussion about the value of balancing careers with a life of the heart.
As I told my students, I’d reached an age when it’s not uncommon to occasionally attend the funerals of fellow professionals. I’d noticed, in hearing a fair number of eulogies, that despite the good things a departed colleague or associate had done on the job, few mourners focused on the work-related accomplishments of someone who had passed away. Instead, the talk turned to how a lost loved one had excelled as a parent, sibling, friend, son, daughter or spouse.
That reality underscores a lesson for all of us, I reminded the class. While trying to climb the career ladder, we should make time to nurture a circle of people we care about.
All of this returned to mind over the summer with the deaths of New Orleans TV anchor Nancy Parker, who once worked in Baton Rouge, and former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.
Parker, the victim of a tragic plane crash, had a great job, but that’s not what her husband, Glynn Boyd, dwelled on during his moving remarks at her memorial service. Even for those of us who didn’t know Parker, Boyd’s eulogy, widely shared on social media, was an eloquent tutorial on how to live a fulfilled life. Although Parker was best known as a TV journalist, Boyd detailed her simple generosity away from the camera — how his wife would quietly visit ailing viewers in the hospital, make delicious dinners for her family after a long day at work, or use her frequent phone conversations to celebrate her children. “I truly believe she is an angel in disguise because of how she touched people,” Boyd said.
Blanco’s passing prompted similar testimonials. Although people of good will can differ in their assessments of the former governor’s political career, Blanco’s death after a long struggle with cancer was an occasion to recall her basic sense of decency. A former journalist remembered getting a heartfelt call from the ex-governor after he’d suffered a deep personal loss. She was out of politics and had nothing to gain from the outreach, apparently just wanting to share her insights on grief with another hurting soul. Another ex-journalist recalled how Blanco sometimes cooked for her staff, serving them herself — a servant leader personified.
New York Times columnist David Brooks makes the distinction between “résumé virtues,” the things that help us rise professionally, and the “obituary virtues,” the good deeds that will, if embraced often, define us when we’re gone.
Parker and Blanco had impressive résumés. Their obituaries, the truer measure of an ideal life, were even better.