A Quiet Generosity

Post Author: Molly James

This is a photo of my grandfather and me. It is from commencement weekend at Tufts University in May 2002. Three years later, we would take a similar photo as I received my MDiv from Yale. And six years after that, he would fly to England to sit in an auditorium and watch me receive a hug from a Baroness and my PhD from the University of Exeter. My grandfather was a big supporter of education, and in my case, he quite literally made it possible for me to have so many initials after my name. Even more importantly, though, he inspired me to seek after all that knowledge.

My grandfather loved learning. He loved puzzles and problem solving. He was a voracious reader, particularly of anything related to politics or American history. He truly showed learning to be a lifelong endeavor. Again and again, his witty brilliance and his joy of learning reminded me how we are enriched when we know more, when our horizons are expanded.

I am not only inspired by his love of learning. I am also inspired by his quiet generosity, which made my education and the education of so many others possible. My grandfather made a lifetime of doing good works with gentleness. He spent his career as a lawyer, providing estate planning and creating trusts to preserve assets for future generations. Much of this work was done for charitable organizations. And he sat on numerous boards that worked to provide programs, education, and recreation for inner city and vulnerable youth. He was a faithful member of his church, giving of his time and his expertise whenever they were called for. He refereed countless rule disputes at professional golf tournaments. He gave significant amounts of his own resources to support causes in which he believed. Through his professional work and personal generosity, he has made a profound difference in the lives of countless individuals. But his name isn’t on any buildings, and he didn’t seek recognition in the headlines or the society pages. He lived a life of quiet servanthood, because that is who he was and who he was called to be.

My grandfather died recently at the age of 94. He left this world just as he lived his life and just as he would have wanted to go. He died peacefully and quickly, without making a fuss or being a burden on anyone. He made a lifetime of caring for the people he loved and for people he never met. He lived fully until the end. He never retired from being a lawyer nor gave up helping charitable boards or his church. His generosity of spirit and his humble demeanor continue to inspire me. They show me that it is quite possible to live a life out of the spotlight that makes a tremendous difference in the world. They show me that being a respected member of one’s profession or society as a whole does not require announcing one’s accomplishments or seeking worldly recognition. Being who he was, he would not want to be made into an example or have the spotlight shine on him, but I share his story now because it has given me such an example to live by.

I am tremendously grateful for the education that has set me on my career path and enriches my life, but I am even more grateful for the example of my grandfather’s life. While I no longer have the joy of helping him do the crossword, or discussing the merits of books we recently read, or hearing his take on the President’s State of the Union address or the outlook for the next election, I know that his spirit is with me. I hope that I will continue to be inspired by his example. I hope I will respond with genuine curiosity when confronted with an opinion vastly different than my own. I hope I will give generously of my time and resources to enable others to have the advantages his generosity offered me. I hope I will always stick to my principles and not get caught up in what someone else thinks I should do. I hope I will always make time to learn about that which inspires those around me. I hope I will always keep my sense of humor, and, like my grandfather, take time to enjoy a good cup of coffee after a delicious meal.

Molly James is the Dean of Formation for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut and also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Hartford Seminary and The University of St. Joseph. She is the co-chair of The Young Clergy Women Project. Molly is married to Reade, a mechanical engineer. They have two children, Katherine and Halsted. Molly enjoys cooking and eating good food, reading, writing, and the splendor of God’s Creation.

Image by: Courtesy of the Author
Used with permission
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