End Paper BOB RIETZ
How Will You Be Remembered?
WE RECENTLY (FINALLY?) SOLD OUR MOUNTAIN CABIN and moved to a condo within walking dis-
tance of downtown Asheville, N.C. Moving is traumatic, and demands instant decisions—move an item, sell it
in a garage sale, give it to the kids, donate it to a local charity, or discard it.
But moving also unearths forgotten items. I was delighted to
find David Holt’s business card from a 2005 actuarial meeting. He
gave a memorable luncheon presentation on legacy and encouraged
attendees to fill out the legacy cards he left on every table. I wrote
the following: “Good father, sense of humor, intellectually curious,
and empathy for the less fortunate.” Sadly, I couldn’t add “good
husband” because I knew the days of my marriage were numbered.
I note there was no mention of professional success.
On a parallel track, I’ve become interested in genealogy and
discovered many factoids. Two of my ancestors fought in the
Revolutionary War, making my daughters and granddaughters
eligible to become members of the Daughters of the American
Revolution. Several other ancestors were Union soldiers during
the Civil War. My great-grandfather, a carriage driver, emigrated
from Germany with his 18-year-old bride immediately before the
Franco-Prussian War. Another great-grandfather built a cottage in
Chicago on Paulina Street using a hammer and handsaw in 1854.
All of his children were born there, but don’t bother looking for the
house. The street was razed to make way for an expressway and is
now only a footnote in history.
An earlier ancestor packed up his wife and one-month-old
daughter in a covered wagon and moved from Ohio to Indiana in
1829. My uncle (and namesake) earned a Ph.D. from the University of
Chicago, though he never graduated from high school. My ancestors
came from Germany, England, Holland, and France, and my DNA
contains traces from Spain, Italy, Greece, and Croatia.
None of my children or grandchildren will know these and other
stories unless I tell them.
I never met either of my grandfathers. My grandmothers are a
distant memory, though I still vividly remember my father crying
at his mother’s funeral when I was young. When my sister and I are
gone, our grandmothers will join our grandfathers in being dust
in history. No one will remember them, their sacrifices in raising
16 children between them, or anything else in their combined lives
that covered 160 years.
Whenever I visit my children and grandchildren, I relate stories
about my parents. My father was a lifelong Cubbies fan (who never
saw them win a World Series) and had a wicked sense of humor.
He worked tirelessly to provide for us and still found time to take
me bowling and attend some Little League games (where I was an
abject failure). Dad fought in New Guinea but told no stories of
his time there.
My mother was a lifelong learner with enormous compassion
for underprivileged people. No one could bake as well as she did,
and she would make any sacrifice for her children. Mom made it
abundantly clear that I was going to college. Period! She would
proudly tell anyone who would listen about her son who became
an “actuarian,” a term I could never correct. My grandchildren will
remember many facets of their lives, despite having never met them.
Twelve years after Holt’s presentation, legacy is beginning to tug
at my shirtsleeves. How do I want to be remembered by my children
and grandchildren? As an actuary? Doubtful. As a good father—
though the time for influencing that has long expired? Hopefully.
At last a good husband? I hope Nancy agrees that box can now be
checked. A sly sense of humor, love of travel, lifelong learning, and
no physical talents were passed down to me, and I see evidence of
those traits in my children. Will they tell their children who gave
them those attributes?
The sand in my hourglass seems to dwindle more rapidly each
day. How do I want to spend the next 24 hours and each 24 hours
after that? Golfing and hiking? Teaching, mentoring, and attending
continuing education classes? There are so many good books and
magazines to read and discuss with friends. How long can my wife
and I travel internationally without a tour group? Will I EVER attain
conversational competence in Spanish?
But how I’m remembered is my issue to “wrestle to the ground.”
What will be your legacy?
BOB RIETZ is a retired pension actuary who lives near