The title of this blog is motivated by the title of a newspaper article I wrote when my uncle passed away years ago. The article (shared below) was about my thoughts as I recognized the influence he had on me, and the motivation I had as a result to be a better role model for others in my life. Now, more than a dozen years later, after many years and many roles… as a teacher, a coach, a step-father, a co-worker, a consultant, a manager, a husband, a caregiver, and a friend… it is interesting to see how things have evolved. The article was written pre-9/11; yet it seems appropriate to my life and my recent work post-9/11. Everything is indeed connected.
A Mentor Walks With Me (The Cracker Barrel magazine; Gloucester Daily Times: 2000)
Today, my job is to hold the flag. My eyes look over the detail of the embroidered stars and the clean lines of the woven stripes. It is a new flag. It is a flag with so much history.
My mind isn’t on the flag, its particular freshness or the history it represented. It is on the man below it- the man who is lying still, at attention, while a lone Marine off in the distance plays Taps.
My Uncle Bob was my mentor, my teacher. Yes, there were hundreds of people in Gloucester, Massachusetts who could say the same thing. After all, he was a teacher there for many years. And yes, there were many friends and relatives who could also say that he was their mentor. A few of them had spoken about him today. But today, my thoughts are on him, and what he meant to me.
The lines on the flag blur as my mind wanders and my eyes tear. I hold on to the flag.
I was sitting next to him on a cold, damp Thanksgiving morning watching the annual Danvers-Gloucester football game, staying warm. Together with my brothers, we woke up in the morning and went to the church to borrow some large tables for the afternoon turkey dinner that would bring many of my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents to his house. Then we went to the game while my aunt coordinated the feast. It was our annual guys’ time with our uncle. Everyone seemed to know him at the game. Everyone seemed to respect him. They smiled and joked with him. The following day he would take us into the woods to gather firewood. He showed us how to use the chainsaw and split wood. The weather would sometimes get clear and warm. He would take us swimming at Front Beach or to the tennis court to hit some balls.
He loved the beach. He’d play kickball with us kids. He’d get all of the other adults involved by yelling, “It’s time for ground ball practices!” He’d go play football with the students he knew. He’d have every person at the beach in a body-surfing competition in which he was usually the champion. He loved to play, to win, to laugh and be silly.
A thousand memories ran through my mind… the time at West Mountain when he taught me to wedeln… the time he first showed me how to play tennis in Pidgeon Cove… the advice he gave me when I was first married and he was my best man, and the words of wisdom he gave me when that marriage fell apart… the sight of him leading at least 50 kids down High Street in his dress-whites as he led the annual town Memorial Day parade… the opportunity he gave me, when I was still in high school, to design the deck behind their house which still provides extended family a summer afternoon meeting place.
I looked at the three Marines in full dress, at attention. Will their eyes ever see what his eyes saw in two wars? Could we ever imagine what it was like to fly propeller-powered aircraft in air combat? Will I ever hear these stories? I’m keeping the flag still, Colonel.
His friends spoke of who he was, not of what he did. They spoke about how he lived by his values: respect, truth, caring and love. They spoke about how he was a role model by example, how he always seemed to have boundless positive energy, and how he would never ask you to do something he wouldn’t do himself. They spoke about how, through it all, he never drank alcohol nor used drugs nor spoke foul language. They spoke about how he always took care of his body.
I only saw my uncle a few times a year: Thanksgiving, July 4th, Memorial Day, and during our summer vacations in Rockport. Yet, he had a great impact on me. Not so much on what I did, what I do now, or what I can do, but on who I am… my values, my personality, my happiness. I looked around and saw many of my other mentors, the people who gave me the set of values that I feel blessed with today, the people who taught me many of the skills I have to survive and get along with others. I am so fortunate. I am a product of my parents. They have taught me unconditional love and have always been there for me, supporting me, not judging me. They have been my rock. I’m so thankful for that. I’m also a product of other family members, teachers and friends who were role models for me, who took some time with me, who cared about me.
I looked around and saw the younger people who are still developing their own personalities and value systems. Who will be their role models, their mentors? Who will be their rock? Who will be the people who will take time with them, whether it is to enjoy a game, play on the beach, or be there in a time of need? Who will teach them basic life skills and values? Who will teach them to respect others, as well as themselves? Who will teach them to have the courage to say no to alcohol and drugs? Who will teach them to be happy and to help them lead their own lives? Who will be the people who will be their mentoring community?
My job for that day was to hold the flag, that’s what pallbearers do. When the Marines came over and said to us, “Thank you, gentlemen, we’ll take over from here,” I knew my job for the day was done.
We stood and watched as they ceremoniously folded the newly woven piece of embroidered fabric, slowly, perfectly, like many before them had done. They presented it to my aunt, his wife of over 50 years. They saluted, and then slowly marched away. I watched as his grandchildren, my second cousins, slowly walked up to where my uncle rested and laid flowers down on him.
I spent time later that day with my nieces, nephews, and second cousins. My job is not done. A mentor walks with me. It is my job to do for others what my uncle did for me. And be a mentor.
And… This Mentor Will Always Walk With Me
(from previous post… My Dad’s Obituary)
Dateline: Burnt Hills, NY
Robert S. “Bob” Speck, 87, of Wendy Lane, died on Tuesday, August 6, 2013 at the Maplewood Manor Nursing Home in Ballston Spa. He was born on July 7, 1926 in Gloucester, MA and was the son of the late Reinhard and Gertrude (Marshall) Speck.
Bob Speck will be remembered locally for his four decades of dedicated community service and public education leadership in the Burnt Hills – Ballston Lake School District. He served 36 years as member of the Board of Education, often serving as Board President. He also served terms on the board of directors for Capital District B.O.C.E.S. and the New York State School Board Association. Prior to these school board roles, he also served in volunteer leadership roles at the Charvale Pool Association, Burnt Hills Junior Baseball Commission, Hickory Hill Ski Center, and the PTA at Stevens Elementary School. He was recognized for his service and program support with many awards, including the BH-BL Founder’s Award, the BH-BL Rotary Citizen of the Year, induction in the BH-BL Sports Hall of Fame, and the naming of the middle school Media Center in his honor. He also served as the school district historian and worked with the District to publish a book in 2005 on the 200-year school district history.
Bob Speck grew up on a two-acre dairy farm in Rockport, MA. As a boy, he helped his family run a dairy farm, milking cows and delivering raw milk before school. A nephew of Native American anthropologist Dr. Frank G. Speck, he spent summers learning about indigenous ways of life from Mohegan Chief Harold Tantaquidgeon and later became an Eagle Scout. After graduating from Rockport High School in 1944, Speck enlisted in the US Army Air Forces during World War II and was in training to be an aviator cadet when the war ended. He enrolled in Tufts University and graduated with a Bachelors of Science degree in Engineering Physics in 1949.
Speck married his high school sweetheart, Elizabeth “Betty” Speck in 1949, and soon joined the General Electric Company. After assignments in Lynn, MA, and San Jose’, CA, Bob and Betty settled in Burnt Hills in 1958, and Speck began a 36-year career for GE working at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Niskayuna, NY, and the Kesslering Site, in West Milton, NY. His work was largely involved in the design and construction of nuclear power plants for US Navy ships and submarines, many of those years doing ground-breaking work under the direct supervision of Admiral Hyman Rickover. Speck received his Masters of Science degree in Nuclear Engineering from Union College in 1963, and later authored a nuclear power training manual for GE which was used for many years by the US Navy.
Speck was always focused on getting things done, whether at work, in his community service, or in his yard. But, he was focused most on his family. Bob, also known as “Pete” to neighborhood and hometown friends, was always together with Betty at family academic and sporting events where they have been enthusiastic boosters. He and Betty have been fixtures at BH-BL and Union College soccer and ice hockey games. Each summer, the two of them gathered kids and grand-kids together for vacation stays in their hometown of Rockport, MA, spending time together with relatives on Long Beach and cheering for their beloved Red Sox. Bob was so proud of his children and his grand-children, their lives, their achievements, their togetherness. He lifted up others with his energy and his wit. He will always be remembered for his dedicated work, his sense of integrity, his intelligence, and his light-hearted nature.
He was the beloved husband of Elizabeth (Marr) Speck, his wife of 64 years, his friend and partner for almost 70 years;
Caring father of Laurie Speck-Mach of Broadalbin, NY; Robert Speck, Jr of Manchester Center, VT, Dr. Douglas Speck of West Newbury, VT, and Brian Speck of Burnt Hills; and father-in-law of Jo Kirsch, Dr. Claire Bolon-Speck, and Kim Speck;
Devoted grandfather of Heather and Brandon Mach of Broadalbin, NY; Alex Boyle of Los Angeles, CA and Natalie Boyle of Boston, MA; Emily, Megan, and Abby Speck of West Newbury, VT; and Ian, Cameron, and Sean Speck of Burnt Hills;
Brother of the late Dr. Staniford “Sonny” Speck of San Francisco, CA; Ralph “Bud” Speck and Francis “Lad” Speck of Sioux City, IA, and Gertrude “Peggy” (Speck) Shea of Rockport, MA;
And “Uncle Pete” to many nieces and nephews.
A celebration of life memorial service will be held on Saturday at 10:30 AM at the Burnt Hills United Methodist Church, 816 Route 50 in Burnt Hills, NY. Following the service will be a reception at the Robert S Speck Media Library at the BH-BL Middle School.
Interment of Bob’s cremated remains will be in the family plot in Beach Grove Cemetery in Rockport, MA on Saturday, September 7, 2013.
Those who wish are encouraged to make memorial donations to the Burnt Hills United Methodist Church or the BH-BL Robert S Speck Scholarship Fund c/o Townley & Wheeler Funeral Home.
Many thanks are extended by Bob’s family and friends and to the staff at Maplewood Manor, Saratoga County VNA, and Saratoga County Hospice for their loving care. Special thanks to Karen Murdick and Fred Hess.