This morning we are heading to “celebrate the life” of two of Signature’s most accomplished and patient leaders who passed away last week within 24 hours of each other. These moments are challenging because my mind drifts to three emotional themes – What is personal legacy really about? Why do we grieve so hard when we know where they are both headed? How do you replace two of the best peers that you have ever worked with?
I remember the first time I laid eyes on Annette Jansenius as part of a complicated Brookwood transaction about which she had hesitation when our team entered her world. She liked her world the way it was but soon embraced the Signature Revolution, helped us raise the bar on the ideologies behind our social movement so much that we all fell in love with her quest for excellence. It never mattered to Annette how much money she made personally but if anything was being measured as an organization than Courtyard was going to be #1. How can we teach that attribute? How can other leaders grasp the full understanding of their spiritual stewardship obligation? It is a quest for excellence that becomes a powerful vocation for all. We just need to embrace it.
From my point of view, there are so many great qualities about each leader that I could write about for days but for this reflection I wanted to pick two. If Annette was about passion and excellence, then Pam was about servant leadership and total humility.
It seems like yesterday when we found Pam Jowers as the leader of the famed St Peters Campus in Memphis that Signature acquired almost four years ago. She led her team for almost two decades to become one of the most accomplished healthcare teams in the entire city. Whatever role Pam assumed it was accomplished with total servant leadership and never with the thought of “I” only we. Our St Peters campus is the talk of Memphis because it is going through transformation as we speak. Pam gave her life to her service work, and once the Revolution knocked on her door she accepted like she was always part of us even before we knew her.
This year she may have sensed something spiritual going on because she took her vacations, took her precious daughter on “once in a lifetime trips”, and when her aggressive illness hit she made peace with it quicker than most knowing that she had lived her life as an instrument of The Lord having mercy and compassion in her encounters while planting thousands of mustard seeds along the way.
This is a very hard and sad day for me and my team but I know as a witness of God that both amazing women are flying through the sky to sign with the angels because they lived lives that should be a reminder of three things – use your gifts to the best of your ability, feed your sheep before yourself, and always lead like you have one day left.
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!