To preserve it, pass it on

At his funeral this weekend, Lewis Marcum Townsend, my grandfather, was remembered most of all as a hard worker with an incredible can-do attitude and ability to solve problems.

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Mr. Townsend was a true self-made man who began working hard from a young age, after losing his mother when he was five.  He never stopped until the day he died.  He paid his way through college by working as a contractor one semester to save money to go to school the next.  After serving as a field engineer for the Navy, he returned home and built his church and both of his homes by hand, with the help of his family and community.  For more than 30 years of his career he was the first call of the Charlotte Mecklenburg School System to fix or build anything that they needed.

Friends and family members all swapped funny stories this weekend about his uncanny ability to solve any problem put before him, often with a sense of humor.  The best way to get him to do something for you was to tell him “I bet you can’t figure out a way to do this,” as my grandmother Virginia told us; “It was as if once he got hold of an idea, he couldn’t let go of it.”  He connected with others through this talent.  He dedicated his whole life to building the things his family and community needed, so that they might have the three things he valued most: strong families, strong schools, and a strong faith community.  So it is fitting that he died doing what he loved; taking care of his family’s beautiful land in the mountains.

As I considered how best to honor my grandfather, I remembered learning about the way the Japanese think about historic preservation.  While it is common for us in the West to think that historic preservation means preserving physical things and structures as they stand, the Japanese place their emphasis on preserving the knowledge and skills needed to build their beautiful historic buildings.  These are made of wood, so they will all eventually burn or fall down in time.  In acknowledgement of this fact, the Japanese pass the techniques for traditional timber craftsmanship down from generation to generation so that they are ready for the moment when they are called upon.  If the memory is preserved, the physical buildings can come and go.

Mr. Townsend was a one of a kind.  ”God threw out the mold when He made Lewis,” my grandmother said this weekend.  That may be, but when we carry forward, through our everyday work and relationships, his unrelenting, can-do attitude and his love of using that talent for building strong communities, we can preserve the mold for generations.

To remember my grandfather, go and build something for the people you love.  Set your mind to their problem, don’t let go of it, and don’t stop until it is solved.

Really… don’t stop until it is solved.

Pass it on.

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