My 93-year-old uncle, whose life I managed over the past several years, passed away in May of 2020. He refused to accept being locked up in a locked-down assisted living facility. He terminated his medications, refused food and water, and died peacefully and with resolve. Understandable in his circumstances.
Thinking about his life and career, I am struck by the similarities of his day and our present day. Like us, my Uncle Wally lived through highly anxious and turbulent times. A world war. Virus outbreaks (polio) that most affected children leaving them unable to walk. The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis which brought our country to within hours of nuclear war. Assassinations of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy and a Vietnam war led to massive protests, rioting, and looting. Very difficult times.
But unlike us, my uncle had a career of constancy. He began his career unloading 50 lb sacks of paint powder from railroad cars and spent the next four decades there, mostly scheduling shipments of paint around North America. For his entire career, from the 1940s through the late 70s, business worked off paper documents, orders, invoices, and paychecks filed in those old steel filing cabinets. He quickly retired in the 1980s when he said, “they put a computer on my desk.”
That’s so strikingly different from everything we are coping with in manufacturing. This year, we’ve learned to social distance and douse coworkers in sanitizer on hearing the slightest sniffle. We are facing an unprecedented onslaught of technology (Big Data, Factory 4.0, Artificial Intelligence…etc.) that, we fear, may one day eliminate us. We are desperately trying to converge our IT and OT infrastructure and provide more product flexibility and data. We must cope with malware, phishing attacks, security dictates from IT, and what a disgruntled, deranged coworker might do. And, of course, heartbreaking injustice and what virus might be next. There’s a reason to be anxious.
But my uncle not only survived his viruses, wars, and riots, he thrived. Instead of giving in to the anxieties of the time, he lived with passion.
Passion for golf – “the greatest game ever.” Passion for his colleagues and customers. Passion for good times with golf friends and family. And his ever-present, vodka martinis. But more than any man I’ve ever known, above everything else, he loved his wife of 46 years. Despite the chaos of his era, he managed to “suck the marrow out of life” as Robin Williams’ character described in the movie, Dead Poets Society.
His passing is a loss to our family but it is much more a celebration of a life well-lived. It’s a reminder that we can’t live a life of despair. We must fix what we can fix in society but we must strive to live that life of passion, love, and friendship.