Monthly Archives: May 2015

Two Very Different Funerals

Once upon a time there were two brothers: Richard and Robert. They were born one year apart—Richard was the elder—and in December 1999, both of them died.

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Richard was a successful businessman. He received an MBA from Harvard, and at thirty founded a company that would be worth billions of dollars. Richard had a mansion, a yacht, assistants, and even a collection of exotic sports cars. His favorite was a black Rolls Royce Phantom that he would park in his executive parking space.

Richard’s name is on buildings. He left behind several massive endowments—including his alma mater, and the hospital where he and Robert were born.

But Richard, despite his success, never had much contact with people. He had few friends. He was often belligerent and obnoxious to those around him.

When Richard died, twenty people came to his funeral. Ten were family, and the others were on his payroll—in some way or another.

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Robert became a philosophy professor at the state university. For forty years he taught undergraduates the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Hegel. He earned a modest salary of $70,000 when he died. He lived in a small house and drove a 12-year-old Civic that often broke down on the side of the road. More than once he stuck out a thumb and hitchhiked his way to class.

He was an enthusiastic lecturer, and he always kept his office door open—for students, or anyone looking to talk. He was a warm and amiable person.

Robert died suddenly between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The funeral was set on January 2nd. Vacations were cancelled; flight plans were delayed. Hundreds of people showed up to the service—mostly former students.

After the funeral, one student approached Robert’s widow and only son. He looked about thirty years old. He introduced himself and gave each of them a big hug. Just before leaving he turned to Robert’s son. “Your father inspired me to be a teacher.”

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What legacy do you choose to leave behind? What kind of life do you choose to lead? What kind of funeral will you have?

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