You’ve probably received the call. It’s usually in the dead of night, or in the morning’s wee hours, but when the phone rings you know it’s one of two things – either a drunk on the other end of the line, or someone calling to inform you of news you don’t want to hear.
I received one of those last week, except in the mid-afternoon when heart-wrenching phone calls aren’t expected. My longtime friend, Dave Stoddard, president and founder of the non-profit I work with, had passed away very unexpectedly during a business trip in Denver. One of his sons, Aaron, maintained his composure enough to share with me some sketchy details. Dave had died apparently of natural causes, even though he’d not expressed feeling ill.
What do you say at a time like that? I’m a wordsmith, but the best I could muster was, “Oh, man. I’m so sorry.” The loss for Dave’s wife, Anne, their two sons and daughter were paramount, but the void suddenly slicing into my own heart was beyond expression.
He was one of my best friends, virtually like a brother – in the best sense of the word. In fact, the Bible says, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Dave was like that. We had spent many hours together, at meetings and conferences, traveling, in his home, sometimes engaging in deep, serious discussions – other times being as crazy as two grown men can be.
We could go weeks without talking to each other, and the next time we got together or connected by phone seemed like there had been no lapse. We both were Army brats and grew up in New Jersey, but what linked us most closely was our passion for Christ and desire to help others fall in love with Him, too.
But when I received that phone call, I knew I’d never talk to my friend again on this side of eternity. Even though I knew Dave was with his Lord, the gaping hole left in this life, for family and friends, was unfathomable. It was one of those proverbial pinch-yourself moments, hoping to wake up and be relieved to discover it was only a dream. Problem is, I wasn’t sleeping.
Dave and I go back about 30 years, soon after I joined the staff of Christian Business Men’s Committee (CBMC). I had interviewed him for a couple of articles in the CBMC magazine while he was a rising star in the medical supplies industry, and later worked with him on the CBMC executive staff team. Dave could have become president of his company within a few years, but he and his wife wanted to give their lives to something more enduring than selling high-quality medical equipment.
Without question he was a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, but never fit Christian stereotypes. He hung out with ease among non-believers, never forgetting his own days as a skeptic of Christianity, exploring various avenues of spirituality, including Transcendental Meditation, before realizing Jesus wasn’t kidding when He declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). And Dave understood the difference between religion (with its rules, rituals, organization and dogma) and spirituality – the desire to know the God of the universe and discover how to have a growing relationship with Him.
He founded Leaders Legacy to leverage his professional expertise and assist business owners and top executives for companies large and small through mentoring, executive coaching, leadership development and team building. In the process, he hoped and prayed for opportunities to talk with leaders about matters beyond the workplace – matters of faith and the heart.
In 2001 he offered me an opportunity to join his team after learning I was sensing it was time to leave CBMC after 20 years. I’ll always remember his words: “Bob, I’ve always felt you were underappreciated and underutilized in your role. If you ever need a place, somewhere you can flourish and become all God wants you to be, we have a place for you.” Wow! Are those affirming, encouraging words or what?
Together we co-authored a book, The Heart of Mentoring: Ten Proven Principles for Developing People to Their Fullest Potential. It’s about Dave’s experiences in a unique approach to one-to-one, relational mentoring, based on simple, straight-forward principles. It’s sold more than 26,000 copies – not exactly a runaway bestseller, but far more successful than most books. And from various accounts, it’s touched many lives.
Over the past 12 years, he probably taught me as much as any single person in my life. And I’d like to think he learned a few things of value from me as well.
When you spend a lot of time with someone there’s so much you could say and write. But I think I can wrap this up with a few thoughts. Dave loved his Lord, first and foremost. He truly loved his wife and children. I never heard him conclude a phone call with any of them without saying, “Love you (and then saying their name).” And he loved people, regardless of status, age, ethnicity, gender or political persuasion. Because he could love them through the eyes of Jesus.
As my thoughts and memories (and some tears) flowed in the hours after I learned of Dave’s death, one passage impressed itself on my mind.
Opening his letter to followers of Jesus in the city of Philippi, the apostle Paul had assured them, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). Verses later the apostle wrote, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” Then he concluded, “for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).
Even though the sting of loss is so real for his family – and his many friends – I’m certain to the last Dave held to the conviction, “for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
The organization he founded is aptly called Leaders Legacy, because he indeed left a wonderful legacy. I suspect in the coming days, weeks, months and years, it’s a legacy that will flourish and continue bringing much glory to God.
We miss you, Dave. See you soon!
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, a former newspaper editor and magazine editor. He is presently vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit focused on mentoring and coaching business and professional leaders. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and has authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” “Business at Its Best,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. He also posts regularly on two blogs, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, and www.bobtamasy.wordpress.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.