It is important to me that you know this…

The only truly great man I have ever known is almost 100 years old. He suffers from Alzheimer’s and sleeps most of the day. If I were to go to his home, he would not recognize me, thus I am spared by his family of this heartbreak.

In his professional life, he was a gifted surgeon who saved thousands of lives. I had the great privilege of knowing him closely for a period of five years from age 16 to age 21. For some of that time, I worked in his medical office part-time while a student at USC.  I last saw him in 1992, but we kept in touch by mail until his disease prevented him from writing.

The last communication I received was about three years ago when he sent me a signed copy of a book in which some of his extensive research was cited. His hand was shaky but it did not matter. His photograph is on my desk and I look at it many times a day, always searching for some clue to what he would have done were he faced with the decisions I must make.

This great man taught me patience, humility, and dedication. He taught me how to eat, how to dress, how to write, and how to talk. He taught me that ethics are not situational and not optional. It was through him that I learned the value of preserving a good reputation. Perhaps most important, he taught me how to treat people.

And he did all of this teaching without ever telling me how it should be done. Every lesson I learned was taught simply by setting a good example. He was beyond a mentor, and I have spent much of my adult life trying to pay back someone or something for the incredibly good fortune of having known him.

If I am honest, if I am ethical, if I am clear and direct, if I am dedicated, if I am a good father, if I was a good husband to my late wife and a good husband to my new wife, if I am sincere, it is because of him.

But if I am compelled to rage against injustice, discrimination, war, arrogance, laziness, unethical behavior, and pettiness, it is because of my mother.

Steve Smith