When we booked our first trip to Africa, we never thought about Nelson Mandela’s potential passing or President Obama’s potential farewell visit. However, as the trip became very close, we realized tensions would be high because both events were possible during the same trip.
From the minute we landed in Johannesburg, everywhere you turn you feel or see the impact of Mandela has on the entire country, and it should remind us that one person really can still impact the world. Hopefully that will never change. Everywhere, we see signs, bumper stickers, dinner prayers with other South Africans, casual talk among locals, the pride you see in the eyes of workers everywhere or the prideful white leaders who have passionately embraced the new day.
For me, I remember when an old friend was doing a “political sit-in” with other student activists as the student body president of University of Louisville to start an on-campus “stop apartheid” campaign, which my father thought was cool because he had educated on “buy U.S.” or “stop apartheid” movements. This was the first memory of Nelson Mandela I remembering having. My father believed, as a cabinet labor director for the state, that fair and adequate pay, labor with representation, minimal wage standards, safe working conditions and even in affirmative action because he believed it helped heal an injured society who experienced social injustice spread by whites.
Being here this month is a gift and a true blessing. Even two days ago as we sat stuck in traffic on our bus as President Obama’s motorcade raced past, our fellow South African passengers talked with price that both amazing countries had a leader with roots in the African culture, and how people in the U.S., like Martin Luther, Malcolm X and others before Mandela, paved a way for a better world. South Africans are proud Obama was given the opportunity and said it shoes how progressive the U.S. is when it comes to race, labor, and freedom.
But this month, it is all about sitting around tables full of people from 21 countries who are safari-ing across the Kruger bush, having reflection dinners on Mandela’s teachings and talking about his best traits – forgiveness, vision, tenacity, inspiration, etc. We’re also hearing firsthand from our new South African friends who met him and shook his hand, or our host family who met and moved here to build a new life and family because of one man: Nelson Mandela.
The whole place, in less than 30 years, is really healing; affirmative action is in full force, big developments are going on everywhere, and the old guard is only 9% of the total population. Meanwhile, tourism is booming in Cape Town, the world watched as South Africa hosted the World Cup just three years ago through a world wide lens and – this might be the best story in the end – democracy is thriving, with one of the richest cultures iand most diverse economic bases in the world.
All of this is working in harmony because of one man’s vision; it is a blessing to feel his impact while he is still here among us.
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!