His days were full of life

Published 2:20 pm Tuesday, April 27, 2010

As long as I knew Dale Stanton, he was dying. I didn’t know him as the strong, athletic young man, or as the energetic peace corps volunteer, or as he climbed Good Will Industries’ management ladder, or as the highly successful CEO of its Detroit operations. No matter. I liked and admired the Dale Stanton I did know. I loved him, and I miss him, his having finally died last month.

Dale was against ignorance, incompetence, irresponsibility, dishonesty, prejudice, and violence. He was for learning, efficiency, productivity, accountability, truthfulness, and peace.

Dale Stanton was for people: for his family down to his three grandchildren, his employees and associates, his friends, and anyone else he only heard of. Reared in Lyle, he returned to the area to be near Mayo’s care. He wasn’t back in Austin long before he learned all the places he could meet people.

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Against all odds, he never allowed his terminal illness to define him. Rather, he used it to gain new perspective on life so that even as his body was wasting away his spirit soared.

This disease was strange, rare, puzzling, and impossible. It finally took his life. Yet, God’s grace enabled this terrible thing to do more for him than it did to him. I have wondered if the onset of this disease might not have been when he really began to live. I don’t mean to belittle his considerable accomplishments when in good health, but many are accomplished in good health.

Few of them, however, lived the way Dale Stanton lived. Others have done well when things went well. They have won in competition, achieved when given opportunity, and scored when they reached the goal. So he did for many years. This, alas, was not his lot recently.

That he has been reading much in the Old Testament book of Job should not surprise. Dale would never say he was much like Job, but he grew increasingly like godly Job.

From what his former employees have told me, I recognize Good Will thrived under Dale’s management, because his leadership inspired his people to thrive. He informed, enabled, empowered, and motivated his people. He practiced the difference between moving bodies and motivating spirits. He managed efficiently and led effectively.

So he did with all those with whom he engaged. Although Dale was forthright about his life-threatening illness, he was soon inquiring into our health inconveniences. When he called or visited an ill person, which he took as a responsibility, he touched with a compassion borne of his own affliction.

He was constantly encouraging people to work together by nourishing strong personal relationships. He taught not just how to get a message out but how to get it received.

Were these last days of Dale Stanton’s life his bad years? Physically and medically, yes of course. The adversity that confronted him and the pain he bore are unbelievable.

Yet, in intimate, private conversations Dale rejoiced in how much he and Celine feel they have grown spiritually. When it seemed everything was against them, they triumphed the most.

I submit these years were the best years of a remarkable life. In those years that are customarily perceived as the prime years, Dale was admirable. In these latter years he was inspiring.

This is what Dale gave me almost five years ago:

“If you are doing something with your life, it doesn’t matter how long your life is. Life does not consist of years lived, but of its usefulness. Your focus must be beyond yourself. If you are loving, helping, encouraging, serving, and adding value to others you are living a useful life. That is significance! I believe the purpose of one’s life is to be productive and to have it make a difference.”

Yes, I did not know Dale Stanton “in his prime,” but I knew him at his best. The writer of the Book of Job concludes: “And the Lord blessed the latter years of Job more than his beginning.” In the particular case of Job, he wrote “And Job died, an old man, and full of days.”

This was God’s will for Job. For Dale Stanton, I think it reasonable to paraphrase: And Dale died having accomplished his life, and his days were full of life.