Impacting lives is not about fame

Published 1:36 am Monday, March 21, 2016

How many times do you read or hear about someone who talks about wanting to make an impact with their lives? But most of the time those people bent on making an impact are focused on doing something that seems important to them but really isn’t in the scheme of life.

Being a famous athlete, TV or movie star or musician isn’t a bad thing, but their accomplishments generally pale in what is really important. Just because they can memorize some words and repeat them doesn’t make them better or smarter than anyone. School kids are doing that all the time.

There are things people do in life that have an impact and those people generally arent’ even aware of what they are accomplishing.

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As is the case in the circle of life, there is life and eventually death. It’s that way for all of us. In recent months there have been three people I have known personally who made an impact.

Fred Neville died a few weeks ago at the age of 79. Here was an individual who had a very calm demeanor, very pragmatic and a great deal of common sense. He spent some time coaching and teaching and I have no doubt those qualities are what made him successful.

Fred could look at a situation very honestly and impartially. He had great insight and wisdom and I’m not sure he understood how that reflected in others when he spoke.

It did for me. I only wished I had told him.

I didn’t make that mistake with Bill Lawless.

A lot of people knew Bill Lawless as the automotive teacher and transportation director for Ironton City Schools. Others also knew of him from his membership at Central Christian Church.

Bill died in January at the age of 85. A few months before that, knowing that he had cancer and his time was limited, he sat at the Jo-Lin Nursing Home and talked about his days at Ironton High School.

Yes, Bill was a great mechanic and good person. He was a good husband and father and he had an impact on his family, especially son David who is an amazing mechanic and is carrying on his father’s work at Ironton.

But the thing that made Bill get a little teary-eyed was talking about his students. He just wanted them to learn and put that knowledge to use to make a living and be a good citizen. He was always touched when a former student would see him and tell him how much they appreciated his efforts.

And sadly a few weeks ago, a former Ironton football and baseball standout died at the young age of 54. It always seems so unfair when someone is taken as to what we would consider to be too young.

Robert Clay is remembered by Ironton fans as a great lineman who was a member of the 1978 team that — despite not making the playoffs — may have been the best team of Bob Lutz’s coaching career.

Coach Lutz told me that his tackles — Darryl Womack and Clay — were so good that the defensive tackle could line up on their inside shoulder and they would still turn them out.

Robert was recruited by Ohio State but Woody Hayes was fired after the Gator Bowl incident and Earl Bruce went looking down another trail. Robert eventually signed with Miami, Ohio, where he was a starter before a knee injury prematurely ended his career.

But there are two things that define Robert Clay to me and they really had nothing to do with his athletic headlines.

One, he gave friend and teammate Jimmy Williams his first Bible. Williams is now a teacher and has been a minister for most of his adult life. Robert had an impact on him.

The second thing very few people knew about Robert was during his recruiting process he got a call from Auburn and was excited to make a visit to such a great program.

But this was 1979 and life in Ironton, Ohio, and Auburn, Alabama, were like night and day.

Robert watched in amazement as the white players ate in one cafeteria, lived in another residence hall and dressed in their own locker room while the black players did the same.

He couldn’t understand it. At Ironton the players dressed in the same locker room, ate at the same training table and rode the same bus. He quickly scratched Auburn off his list despite the opportunity it could have meant.

That was Robert Clay. Devoted in faith and a man of character.

It’s no coincidence that faith and character were part of Fred Neville and Bill Lawless.

Now that is how you really impact someone’s life.


Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.