The recent passing of my father-in-law has touched me very deeply, not only because I loved, admired and respected this exemplary father, husband, business and civic leader very much, but also because I am certain that our world is better because of him. Just his personal story of great success – in spite of his very humble beginnings – would have been enough for a very inspirational movie, but what has made the biggest difference for me is finding more about who this remarkable individual was and what he did with his gifts throughout his life’s journey.
To appropriately honor this amazing man, we needed at least two days. This started with a private funeral where his wife of 57 years, his seven children and their families, his siblings, nieces and nephews all gathered around his casket to share how he had touched their lives. I will always hold tightly the memories of that afternoon that made us cry and laugh intermittingly as we heard the many wonderful ways in which he influenced each of our lives. This incredibly wise visionary was able to guide us into making wiser decisions using that very clever combination of humor and wisdom that characterized him. One thing was very clear – when he spoke, you listened.
I wondered about the long day ahead of us when I learned that the public service was expected to last about 9 hours. However, the day came and left in a blink. It was full of delightful stories shared by the many people that came to pay their respects and told us how Eligio had impacted their lives. He was a true silent leader who chose to do most of his deeds without letting anyone but his beloved wife really know the extent of his generosity. The public service then became the moment when most of his children, who of course grew up knowing their dad as a very generous man always ready to assist his immediate and extended family as needed, really learned of the magnitude of his generosity and the great number of lives their father transformed.
For instance, one community organizer reminisced about a time 22 years ago when she gathered the leadership of the town, seeking support to create a center to help women who were victims of abuse. She remembered how many questions there were from all of those in attendance with the exception of Eligio, which made her think he wasn’t interested and wouldn’t help their cause. At the end of the meeting he asked her to meet him at a particular location the next morning. When they met, he showed her what she described as a dream space and location, but one the organization couldn’t afford. Eligio told her “…and who’s talking about paying for rent?” He provided them with rent-free space on top of financial support for the next 22 years, and because of him, hundreds of women were able to get the help they needed to move forward with their life.
Eligio felt that education is what gave him the chance to succeed in life, and he was always vested in providing that opportunity to others. In fact, the provost of the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico talked very eloquently about his support of their scholarship program (which he provided for decades), and the difference it made for many students who graduated from the institution. The provost also mentioned how Eligio never accepted the offer to give a graduation speech, but nevertheless attended every ceremony. He simply didn’t care about being the center of attention. Trust me when I say that I could go on and on about the many causes and individuals he supported, and how his assistance changed each and every one of those lives.
Reflecting on the enormous legacy that one great but humble man was able to leave behind has made me question what my own legacy will be. What impact am I having on those that come into my life? Have you ever thought about what your legacy will be? Eligio’s legacy was pretty much everything most of us could aspire for. He was the type of man whose actions spoke louder than his words, showing his family that they were first in his life, his friends that they could always count on him, and those he led that w he would always be fair and just. He was a man who demonstrated how anyone can generate strong impact and happiness by living through one’s values, by not taking life too seriously and by giving without expecting anything in return.
I think most of us tend to focus just on the present, not really thinking about the difference we can each make in others’ lives, and how the world can change because of our actions. As for my legacy, I’m hoping that my actions will allow my children to grow up to be honest, strong, caring, and giving human beings. I also hope that through my work, I can spread the wisdom that will help many people gain the awareness necessary to live their dreams and create the kind of fulfilled lives they deeply desire – but may believe to be impossible.
This month, I invite you all to take the time to really consider what your legacy will be – what will people remember you for when you’re no longer here? Take a good look at yourself and ask if you are living a life where you will be proud of what you leave behind. Are you contributing to the world that surrounds you, truly supporting the causes you care about, and positively affecting others? Ask yourself how you want others to speak about you at your own funeral and let that guide your actions. Remember – your legacy is the gift you give to the world, so make yours one that you will be proud of. Eligio certainly did, and so can each of us.
To your success!