The Greatest Man I’ve Ever Met

Last year we lost a great man. David Kingston, my friend of 25 years, passed away and our town lost one of her greatest sons.

I used to dream about climbing mountains, of achieving greatness by conquering cliffs and peaks around the world; or writing a best selling book that might inspire thousands of readers.   But the recent loss of a dear friend has taught me what it means to be truly great. The man who taught me this lesson was a dairy farmer from a small town in western NY named David.  He isn't your typical hero.  He spent his whole life on the family farm, working with his brothers and raising his children.  For one week a year David and his wife Monica might pack up their four kids and head to a house on the coast or a cabin in the woods. Aside from that and the odd Friday evening high school basketball game, David could be found on the farm. That's where I met David.  I started working part-time with him when I was 17 and we've been friends ever since.  Most days I helped with the morning and evening chores; feeding the cows, carrying hay, bedding calves and cleaning out the milk tank.  This all had to be done two times per day, morning and evening.  And it seemed like we were always running late. "David, we've got to feed the cows."  I'd complain almost every evening as he rushed off to do just one more thing.  What made David's frequent delays so forgivable were the reasons; he was usually late because he was trying to help someone. I still remember one cold wet evening in November.  We were already running over an hour behind as the first snow of the season began to fall.  Damp fat flakes soaked through my jacket and dripped down the back of my neck as my face burned red with frustration at yet another delay.

Even while working on the farm David liked to have his family with him. Every moment was a time for friends and family.

"Brother Dan, just one more thing we need to do."  David announced as he backed the pick-up truck into the barn.  It was the "brother Dan" part and David's infectious optimism that always cooled my anger and within seconds I was joining him, throwing large bales of straw into the back.  We stacked it as high as we could before David pulled out and slowly made his way down the road.  We turned into an empty driveway next to a lonely farm house on the outskirts of town; a single light shone in the downstairs window.  The snow had quickened and wet lumps began to pile up along the side of the house.  David jumped out and started stacking bales around the foundation. "This'll give her a bit more insulation for the winter."  David explained as he jumped back in the truck, the brim of his hat dripping onto his face.   An elderly woman lived there alone and David knew the house got cold over the long winter nights.  He just wanted to help a little; to take a bit of the chill out of her life. And that was David.  Over the next 25 years of our friendship I saw him constantly doing little things like this to warm the lives of all those around him and take a bit of the chill out of their lives.  He always took that extra time to brighten the lives of complete strangers and old friends alike.  He might show up on your doorstep with a stack of fire wood on a cold night or a surprise birthday cake when others forgot.  He might offer you a word of encouragement or tell you just the right story (usually a pretty long one) to lift your spirits. David rarely left his small town.  He never climbed any mountains, never wrote any books and never made the evening news.  But he was the greatest man I've ever known, in all my travels around the world.

People stood on line for hours in the cold night to say good-bye to David, pay their respects and offer sympathy to his family.

Last year David passed away at 54.  He had spent the last year of his life fighting cancer with a smile, optimism and his chin up.  At his calling hours I spent the whole day at the funeral home, unable to leave him or the warmth of his family.  All day long people streamed in from far and wide to share stories of how David had warmed their own lives.  They waited for hours, the line snaking through the funeral home, out the back door, across the parking lot and into the cold dark night.  They stood around telling David stories and comforting each other as the whole town struggled to come to grips with the loss of its favorite son. David taught me and everyone he met that greatness isn't measured by the height of the mountains we climb, but by the depth of kindness and love we can share with one another. Good-bye David.  We will miss you deeply!  
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2 Comments

  1. Beth C
    December 13, 2012 | Permalink

    Thanks for telling the story and capturing how it felt on that Tues, Nov 20, when everyone came out to pay their respects to DK. A great example of living life from the heart! Also, it was nice to meet you and your family.

  2. Joe S
    December 11, 2012 | Permalink

    Dan,

    Very well stated, now if you would please excuse me, I need to get a new box of tissues.

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