Yesterday, April 22, is always a significant day for me. It’s Earth Day, yes, a day when we should all reflect on being good stewards to the earth and make an ongoing effort to protect it. Very true. While this day is very important, Earth Day is not the reason for this post – my maternal grandfather’s life, legacy and impact on my life is.
My father recently had many of our old home reel videos from the early 1980s up to the camcorder VHS tapes of the late 80s and early 90s digitalized and sent to me on DVD. I have enjoyed watching these slices of family vacations, reunions, tours of our family’s farm, etc. greatly. My father always loved taking videos when I was growing up. Sometimes it would drive us crazy but in retrospect I’m very glad he did. Most of all it “reconnected” me with several family members who are no longer with us. While all of this was significant this especially rang true with one man – my Grandpa Marshall.
April 22, 1916 Joseph Marshall was born. Growing up in Lexington, Massachusetts (the “birthplace of America” as my grandpa would always proudly announce) my grandfather worked his way through Boston College proudly obtaining an education degree even though he had his military dreams set. He enlisted in the Army Aircorp (now Air Force) as a young man and despite his small frame of just over 5 feet tall – became a pilot through hard work and determination. A successful pilot at that flying in both WWII and the Korean War and Blind Bat missions in the height of the Vietnam War where he received the Purple Heart. Grandpa loved to tell about the C-130 in Vietnam and especially his beloved P-51D Bonesie as well as the lessons learned and sacrifices made for his family. Beyond his wartime experiences my grandfather’s military career led the family all over the US and to South Dakota, Louisiana, New Hampshire and even a few years in Okinawa where my mother and uncles were in DOD schools. Finally my grandfather was stationed Columbus, Ohio where he would end up retiring from the Air Force after a lengthy career.
Retiring a Major in the USAF my grandfather had a full, successful military career. He could have easily hung it up for good. He didn’t. He had an education degree from a top-notch university he had never utilized. He entered a middle school classroom. He taught, loved it, grew and returned for more. 10 years in fact. Loved his “post retirement” career. Then he retired for good.
While I don’t remember my grandfather teaching I do remember him telling me about many of his experiences in education. I was blessed to have 17 years of my life with my grandfather. I can honestly say that in the the last 6-7 years of his life especially as I grew from elementary to middle school and started high school, my grandpa became my best friend. My grandparents lived 45 minutes away but I would always visit several times a month, often weekly. Often I would be together with family but the older I became the more my grandpa and I would have discussions, go to games alone or out to lunch or dinner. It was during these visits the bond grew even closer. As many flying stories as grandpa had he was equally proud of climbing in his beloved (and despised by everyone else in the family) orange Chevette and driving to the school daily to teach. It was apparent that although he spent far more time in the military and had a deep love for it his admiration for education was just as strong.
I have had many influences in my decision to enter education, most notably my mother and several educators I had in school growing up but my maternal grandparents were also a big push especially my grandfather. He was so proud of his daughter, my mother, for being a career teacher and by the time I was in middle school knew that I would follow those footsteps — was elated I wanted to be come the third generation educator in the family.
While my grandfather passed unexpectedly when I was 17 he’s always with me. Just before his passing he gave me a very well crafted watch for Christmas. That very watch has been with me almost 20 years now. That watch has been with me for the significant events in my life he couldn’t attend but I know he was there in spirit. My graduations from high school, undergraduate school, graduate school, interviews, speeches I’ve given, etc. – If I have something significant the watch is on and my grandpa is with me.
We all have significant members of our family who have passed who’ve contributed significantly – Joseph Marshall was just that to me. We loved sports – specifically our beloved Red Sox and Celtics. We also shared great admiration for Michael Jordan and his dedication to success through good times and bad. One year growing up I received Jordan’s inspirational book, I Can’t Accept Not Trying he co-wrote at the height of his career. My grandpa and I collectively shared so much inspiration in this book. Its contents and my grandfather’s belief in me always despite when times were tough — fueled my growing up and continue today.
I have a lot of drive, ambition and will find a silver lining in the most dire situations. Much of this is attributed to family, friends and people in my life. It’s strong now and I’m grateful for that but the initial drive for success was laid by in the foundation my family set for me. They always believed me and pushed me. My grandfather was a colossal part of that. Even though he’s been gone many years and would be 101 and today – I hope I’m doing him proud. He pushed me to #BecomeBetter and #StriveForGreatness long, long before hashtags were a thing. I’m forever grateful for those 17 years with my grandpa and with so many other significant influences throughout my life who have and continue to add value to me. I’m truly blessed.