I recently visited our Signature of Brookwood Gardens facility in Miami to check on the pulse of the Revolution where many were concerned about where we were headed. I dug in deeply, starting with the morning clinical meeting, interacting at the stand-up meeting, and visiting every customer who was willing to share some Cuban coffee and discuss life.
I always start with, ‘Where were you born? What was your vocation, not your occupation? How did you fall in love?’ And so on… All of these questions, regardless of where we are in our sacred journey, create a deep connection because we never forget where we came from, or what we loved to do, or who we loved the most – truly universal questions that make our life reappear.
At Brookwood Gardens, something big happened. I was visiting with our therapy team, checking in on the new software and some new equipment, and thanking the team for their great dedication during some really uncertain times in healthcare.
On the rehab machine was a weathered man named David Lippi, working hard to overcome a recent amputation of his right leg. We made great eye contact, I asked where he was from, and he said, ‘how about you first?’ I said, ‘the famous city of Louisville, Ky…’ His eye watered as David regrouped saying, ‘I ran in the 1986 Kentucky Derby on a horse named Southern Appeal.’ This happened to be the first Kentucky Derby I ever attended, when Ferdinand was the first horse to ever go from last to first.
Sitting in the cheap grandstand seats drinking my first mint julep, watching the horses roar by with one of the most electrifying crowds ever, I never thought that during an encounter 27 years later in South Florida would our lives intersect.
To me, David is royalty who competed in one of the first ever Breeder’s Cup races, and led the famed Kentucky Derby after the first turn, but today he was a struggling man who, at 64, had lost his leg, his wife, his health and is trying to raise a 14-year-old son. At the peak of his earnings potential, he headed to Canada because he fell in love, never recovering financially.
He is the perfect candidate for our amazing Hall of Fame program that celebrated resident legacy. We can never forget that everyone’s journey has a magical aspect to it, and David embodied why we started Hall of Fame in the first place…a famed jockey looking for some joy, who has been supported by our team to forget about all of life’s pain for a few moments and smile, and live with all of us. I saw the gleam and joy come back in his eye…that’s why the the Hall of Fame matters – it makes us all better.
Losing a Great One is Never Easy!
Prior to COVID, I think we all felt like we spent more time with work, work partners and peers than our own families. Was it good or bad? For me, I worked with some of the most talented people in the country, so I loved it. And obviously I love my family too! I had the blessing to work with a friend, brother, Savant, Mensa member, and so much more for nearly a decade and a half – Stephen Stocksdale. To say he was talented with an amazing range is honestly a great understatement in a world full of the opposite. Stephen did so much intellectually, professionally, and personally that for the first three years of working with him, I assumed it “all could not be true”. But time and time again I learned the opposite was true. He served our mission-based organization in every role (field leader, controller, administrator, VP, strategy, consultant, start-ups, etc.) and whatever else we asked of him. Despite having more professional success himself, he just wanted to help us grow in all ways.
One day 5 ½ years ago, Stephen was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and we grieved with him as you would expect. But he was a determined guy and decided to not just learn all he could about cancer, but to master it. He decided there had to be a path he could carve out for himself that no doctor had considered, or he would locate new research that would help him beat it. With a scientific mind and unparalleled IQ, he found a clinical trial he was approved to get in. This trial’s treatment regimen was so potent, and Stephen was the only one that survived. He learned about transfusions, blood structures, and cancer interventions. Cancer kicked his ass often, but he always beat it back up and won again!
We cheered, prayed, and cried often over the past years, but learned three great lessons from Stephen that we all cherish today:
- “Be a Lifelong Learner” because we can always master new things and age is just a number, but lifelong learners never get old. Stephen mastered EMT services, police work, cancer research, hospital administration, heart transplant programs, high level statistical methods, travel, long term care, teaching, and many other degrees, certifications, and accomplishments over 65 years, so let’s all keep Learning and keep growing!
- “Never Give Up” because we grow everyone around us in our struggles and sufferings in ways that impact everyone around us and Stephen knew that and wanted us to get stronger, be more grateful and relearn presence, which we all did! When he came back home, he rarely missed a day at the office and taught all of us new things daily up until the moment he passed last week.
- “GOD IS SO REAL” Stephen had historical expertise on religions, studied theological premises, and had a metaphysical outlook, but in this battle, he felt like he met the Lord and had to share it with all of us. He knew he beat something that is nearly unbeatable, and he wanted time to share his story, his walk, and his private time with the Lord. He watched prayer groups with people he barely knew praying 24/7 that he receives a miracle, and he did receive one that he could share with all of us.
Our organization is going through a very painful time as a mid-size nursing home organization that has stakeholders who worked under unbelievable stress and pressure for so long and had to endure seeing some of our residents pass away. We have lost half of our team, and we are still trying to rebuild stronger and better. I think after serving through the pandemic for 2 ½ years and struggling with how to bring it all back together in this changing workplace and overworked healthcare system, and after suffering so much pulsating unknowns for so long, it was Stephen who gave us the best reason to not look back. He taught us to enjoy the struggle as something that can deepen us all and stay prayerful that God is with us during times like these. We need to rebuild and have new passion as learners, which Stephen demonstrated everyday making our lift just a little easier. And lastly, when you beat cancer four times and die from something else, how could we ever give up? It’s time for us to just “STOCKSDALE IT” and grow by learning, fighting harder and believing in our purpose!
Stephen’s office will remain untouched for now because when he left work on Monday with his ambitious assignments on his wall, we never knew we would not see him again. However, we can certainly feel his presence and we are all better people for his amazing lessons that he taught us until his last hour!