“I just want you to remember me”. These were the last words I heard my father say before he went into a coma and died shortly thereafter, 26 years ago, when I was 26 years old. He had just turned 52 a few days earlier. His death was completely unexpected. Here was a man who rarely got sick, who woke up early to run in the mornings, who ate healthy meals, who did not smoke, rarely drank and took time to rest. Yet, this was his fate, to die of an incurable illness just two years shy of his planned retirement.
He said these words, after I asked the only question I could think of after spending a day bottled up with a whirlwind of emotions, and not being able to express the profound sense of fear and helplessness I felt at seeing him so close to death. I had asked, “What can we do for you?” not knowing that his answer would be the last thing I would ever hear him say. His response seemed so simple to me at the time. I remember thinking, is THAT all? Remember you? That goes without saying! Surely, we can do more!
Not coincidentally, in my 52nd year of life I find myself thinking and writing about legacy a lot. I consider how I would like to be remembered. What impact I want to leave on the earth that would stand the test of time, way after I am gone. And these thoughts naturally lead me to think of Daddy and how I remember him, which has evolved over the decades.
The legacy he left behind is an impressive one, by any account.
At 18, my father’s mother died, and he being the eldest of six children had to find his way, pretty much on his own. He didn’t have the luxury of getting a college education. He came from humble beginnings. He started working as a quantity surveyor and steadily worked his way up the career ladder, at the Trinidad & Tobago division of a prominent British owned multinational construction company. I wish I knew more about what guided him to his chosen career path and where he got his strong work ethic from. Regardless, he worked it out, and by his late 30’s was doing exceedingly well. He would soon make Executive Director of the company, the highest title he could hold in Trinidad. It’s the equivalent of an Executive Vice President at a major US multinational company. Impressive for a “self-made” man.
As his eldest child, I remember spending a couple years in public school but by age 7, I went to private school. I was getting an allowance by age 11. My two siblings had the same privileges. We wanted for nothing. We lived a very comfortable upper-middle class life in Trinidad, except without the bells and whistles screaming so. I got to go to my chosen high school because of my good grades, but also because of the private school primary education that paved the way. At 18, I applied to attend Rutgers University in New Brunswick NJ. It was a wild card decision—I never expected to get accepted and never expected that Daddy would let me go that far away from home. He ruled our roost very strictly, and put his foot down on overnight stays in anyone’s home, far less letting me live abroad! But the stars were aligned I guess, and I got accepted, AND surprisingly, he gave little push back on letting me go. Because of the wealth he had been increasingly building, he was able to pay for the entire thing. To be clear, this is no small feat. I would have been coming into the US as an international student, which meant tuition was doubled for me. We’re talking converting TT currency into US dollars and paying double what the typical American student would pay. Plus, he had to pay for my living expenses as well. But it is testimony to my father’s success in his profession, that he had the means to do this, and to do it comfortably. A year later my sister would similarly benefit at an even more expensive private University in the United States.
Unlike many of my peers at Rutgers, I did not have to work to help pay for my degree. I chose to work in my Junior and Senior years to gain experience for my resume. This is privilege. One my father did not have but that I was blessed with because of his success.
It was not wasted on me. I maintained such excellent grades in College that I was afforded a full-scholarship to pursue a Master’s degree in Finance at the prestigious Cambridge University in England. My Caribbean heritage and my Magna Cum Laude degree gave me the honor of being selected as a recipient of the award from Barclays Bank through the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust. It was an incredible opportunity and a life-changing experience. I was the only woman in the class of 20 or so mostly international students in the Finance MPHIL program to finish it. I went on to complete an MBA program, excel in my market research career, resigning as a Vice President in 2007 to work as an Image Consultant in my own business full-time. I mentored, supported, inspired and encouraged hundreds of women in my work as an image consultant. In 2010, I wrote a how-to style guide on Amazon that was a bestseller in the Fashion and Self-Esteem genres for months. I was the only black market researcher at my company for years. Doors of opportunity were opened for me by the sacrifices my parents made. I have achieved successes I never dreamed were possible which were facilitated by the legacy my father built for me and my family.
But there’s more to my father’s legacy.
My father didn’t just help us, his nuclear family. He was also a great source of security and dependability for his extended family. Someone needed a job, he provided it. Another a loan, sure, he’d back it. Professional advice? He gave that away in spades. He may not have spent as much time as he could have with his loved ones, but he sure was a resource we all could turn to, again and again. He was generous with what he had worked so hard for. I think it pained him to see others struggling financially, the way he may have had to growing up. So he gave, even when he was burned because of it. He gave, nevertheless.
At Cambridge, I remember him reprimanding me harshly because I wanted to get a blue collar job to augment my scholarship funds. I was also trying to become more independent. But my father was appalled that I would be in want in any way, and told me via phone it was absolutely out of the question to work, that I needed to focus on my studies. If I needed money, I simply had to ask him and he was going to be wiring X hundred pounds stat! Period. Full-stop. I was frustrated and in tears at the time. But now I see so clearly his heart—he wanted to provide for me, for all of us—he didn’t want us to struggle, ever. My father worked hard, at probably great personal cost to himself, so he could garner enough wealth (land, savings, stocks) so he could retire at 54 and finally relax and so that his family would never suffer the stigma of poverty. But it is so true that in life, “A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9
Then there was the way my father befriended those less fortunate than himself. My father and I share many qualities I’ve come to see, and one of them is privacy and what I like to dub, “friendly introversion”. He was friendly with many people but only really intimate with a select few. Most of my life I remember him having just one best friend. It was a guy he used to work out with in his 20’s. A simple man. I recall that man visiting us with his family a few times. And even as my father became increasingly successful, that guy, that simple man who had not pedigree nor money, remained his dear friend.
He never forgot his humble beginnings, my father. He didn’t have any illusions of grandeur. In fact, he was the pillar of humility. I recently posed an article on humility and leadership, and I cited a few great leaders we all know and respect as exemplifying humility. My father could slide right in there in the company of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Barack Obama and others who for me modeled humility. It’s a characteristic that I’ve slowly begun to respect, wholeheartedly embrace, and live out in my own life. My father left me that legacy too.
Later in his life, my father got very active in the Catholic Church and gave of his time, resources and wealth to the body of Christ locally and in other parts of the Caribbean. He was well-respected and beloved in the local church community. I remember visiting home from Rutgers and Daddy dragging me to attend the 7.30 am mass and me begrudgingly obliging (some of the time). He would be so down to earth in that element! He would wear his big ‘ole grin as he mingled after service with parishioners. No one was too insignificant to be welcomed and supported by him. It was truly a blessing to witness him in action like that.
There was a poor lady who sold cakes outside the church to support herself every Sunday. My father always made it a point to engage and buy something from her. He would chat with her for a few minutes every Sunday in addition to buying her treats. I remember my mother telling me how much this woman grieved for him after he died. I didn’t even know the woman’s name, but my father had left such an impact on her that she wept for him after his death like if he was her own kin. I’m guessing he made her feel worthy. He let her know he saw her even though many people passed her by. He showed her that she had worth. He showed her grace. Jesus shared with his disciples the parable of the King who reflecting Jesus’ own heart for the outcast when he said, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 22:40 As I write this tribute, this memory sticks out to me as an example of Daddy walking that Christ walk, loving on the people right in front of him.
Daddy’s moral compass seemed centered around caring for those in his sphere and serving them whenever he had the opportunity. As the Apostle Paul exhorted so often in the New Testament: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3-4 NIV When I consider what my father most valued in life, I have to believe that loving people, in the ways he knew to do that, must have been very high on his list. And this was especially true for his family. He cared that we were in harmony with each other. It mattered to him that we stuck up for each other in the tough times and that we supported each other.
My father wanted to be remembered. When I think of my success and achievements, I remember how his sacrifices helped paved the way for me to shine. When I think of the comfortable life I had for most of my life, and the luxuries I often take for granted, I remember. When I envision the way his face lit up when he smiled, I remember. When I catch myself speaking just a wee bit too fast with just a hint of a stammer, just like he did, I remember. When I think of the man he was, not the father but just the man, with all his shortcomings but also with his gifts and strengths, I remember. When I see my own winning smile and the mole on my left cheek that I have in common with him, I remember.
Those words, “I just want you to remember me”, haunted me for a long time. But at the end of the day, isn’t legacy all about being remembered? All we do, our achievements, the books we write, the money we save, the art we create, the medals we win, the battles we fight—all, ALL, are attempts at being remembered, long after we’re gone. They’re the footprints we leave behind in the sand for others to walk in.
Yet his remarkable achievements aside, when all is said and done, what I remember most about my father are the values he inspired in me by his example.
These values include humility, hard work, generosity, perseverance, resilience, compassion, and having and executing a vision. I can take those with me wherever I go and regardless of my life circumstances. While my circumstances may be less than desired, my core values remain. Wealth and material possessions may crumble before our very eyes, no matter what buffers or protection we think we have in place. No one is immune from adversity. There is so much in life we don’t have control over. But no one, no situation, can take away our core values. These have real longevity. This has been true in my life.
We all want to know our lives mattered, that we made an impact, that we did something good with what we were given, and to believe that the world is better off for our being in it. I think Daddy can rest assured that he blessed me and many others by the footprints he left on our hearts.
Thank you Daddy for your legacy and your love.
Your beloved daughter,
In Memory of Woodrow Jobity (Oct 23rd 1940-Oct 28th 1991)
Natalie Jobity is an inspirational author, insight coach, marketing consultant and freelance writer. She is the author of the Amazon Best-selling style guide :Frumpy to Fabulous: Flaunting It. Your Ultimate Guide to Effortless Style. Read more of her inspirational posts on her website. Email her at Elanimage07@gmail.com.