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Bill Kalmar

Quality Insider

Servant to the End

At any moment your outlook on life can be affected

Published: Monday, June 18, 2012 - 11:21

Every now and then an unexpected encounter with an unknown person can affect your thought processes and make you rethink your own mortality. Such an incident occurred several weeks ago at a Panera Bread store in Chesterfield, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. It was on this day that my grandson, Joshua, and I traveled to the local bread company for our traditional breakfast cinnamon roll.

 As we were entering the store, I noticed a car in the handicap parking slot with Texas plates. Once inside the store, I spotted an elderly gentleman attempting to balance three cups of coffee on a tray as he was preparing to leave. A lady offered to accompany him to his car but since she was next in line, I volunteered to walk him to his car. Joshua held open the door, and I carried the tray of coffee as the man hobbled to the parking lot.

When we arrived at his car, I saw that he had the vehicle with the Texas plates. I asked him if he was visiting friends in the area or just passing through town. His response left me dumbfounded. He indicated that he “wanted to spend his last days with his daughter” because he had stage-five cancer.

Words are not sufficient in a time like this, but I told him how sorry I was. Then he responded in a way that told me he had approached this juncture in his life with resignation and with no sense of regret. “Don’t feel sorry for me,” he said. “I have lived a full life and look forward to being with my daughter. I am fine.”

There are few of us, I’m sure, who would have responded in such a fashion. As we placed the coffee tray in his car and he drove off, I was sure he had been an inspiration to others in his life. Here was an elderly gentleman traveling a long distance from his home and then stopping at a coffee shop to bring refreshment to others.

My grandson and I entered the store again, but somehow the excitement of the day had withered, at least in my mind—a nine-year-old does not harbor thoughts of mortality. As we drove back home to enjoy the rest of our visit, I couldn’t stop thinking about our encounter with the man from the Lone Star state. I’m confident he brought joy to those he came to visit, and I’ll bet he was stronger in his final days than those who surrounded him.

Rest in peace, my good friend.

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About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semi-retired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.