Leadership in the Trenches:
Paying it Forward
It was a cold December and it seemed like it snowed every day. The streets were slushy filled with snow and salt and the wind cut like a knife now and again, but hey it was winter in Maine.
Ed left the office late again, December 24th, what was I doing he thought to himself, working late again? Just enough time to get home, stoke the fire and relax and maybe watch it’s a Wonderful Life. As he left the building on congress street it was cold and beginning to snow hard, a couple inches an hour so he rolled up his collar tucked his head in his coat and headed towards his car. There was a man huddled underneath the eves trying to stay warm as he left the building but he didn’t pay much attention. He cleaned the snow off of his windshield and hopped in. All set to go he thought except that the snow was just deep enough to make The rear wheels spin and then make the car track to the side. Ugh, Ed thought why didn’t I get the snow tires on?
He got out and walked to the back immediately realizing he would need a push, some sand or dry Ice, but he wasn't getting out without doing something As he stared at the back wheel and his demise, a voice said,
“Get in sir, I’ll push you out he said as he placed his hands on the trunk and bracing his feet for a good push.”
As he looked up, Ed saw a young man who looked older than he really was. Rough face, torn pants, and a gray over coat that looked like it came from the Goodwill. He had gloves but they were torn and a stocking cap that had a faded patriot logo on it. Get in he said again, I’ll push you.
So he hopped in and with a gentle touch of the gas and a solid push the car freed itself and rolled to a stop a few yards down the road. Ed hopped out elated that the first attempt worked.
“Thank you, thank you, He blurted out. Let me pay you.”
"No, no" the young man insisted, "just pay it forward, someone else is sure to need a hand someday."
"Well at least let my buy you a coffee, you’re freezing."
Hesitantly. he said ok, as late as it was,
"Hop in, the northeast diner is always open" Ed said encouragingly as he quickly got back in the car to escape the cold..
So, there they sat two men on Christmas eve sipping coffee holding their cups to keep their hands warm.
‘What's your name” Ed asked.
“John” he said “My name is John, John Duffy”
“Well John Duffy, I’m Ed Halloran. It’s a pleasure to meet you. So Irish, Huh"?
“Yes sir, and proud of it," he said with pride.
“Well, us Irish have a way of sticking together Ed replied with an equal display of pride. "Where is your family John, nearby?” Ed probed.
He could tell it was a delicate subject. John responded clenching his coffee cup just a little tighter in hopes of getting just a little more warmth from it.
“My mom and dad both worked two jobs to get by but my dad had a bad heart and it caught up with him two years ago and he passed suddenly. My mom, she is working tonight, and I do the afterhours work at your building every night. I’m trying to get through college here at U Maine a couple classes at a time but it’s gonna take a while".
The two exchanged conversation with an ease like they had known each other for a long time even though John was just a young man. Ed even managed to get John to smile and laugh a little. After a couple refills on the coffee and a piece of apple crisp for both it was time to call it an evening.
“Let me give you a ride home " Ed insisted
"Na, I’m good Mr. Halloran, It’s a short walk to Munjoy Hill, have a nice evening he Hollard back over his shoulder.”
And just like that he was gone into the snow beyond the streetlights.
Ed couldn’t get the good will he had experienced out of his mind. When he got home Mary, his wife of eighteen years was waiting with a hot cup of tea .
“Later than usual she inquired?”
“Yes, I got a little stuck and this nice young man helped me out, so I bought him a coffee and a piece of pie at the Northeast Diner. He wouldn’t take a dollar he just asked me to pay it forward".
“Well that was nice of him”
Ed sat and pondered by the fire over an enjoyable cup of tea. The snow was coming down even heavier now. Pay it forward kept creeping into his head.
Life went on as usual through the holidays and soon the short days of winter melted into longer days and a perfect spring. They enjoyed summers at the lake together and since they could never have children of their own often opened their home to children and sometimes families that needed a hand.
Ed was very quiet about things he did and never looked for any fan fair or recognition but he always remembered the night he met a kind young man on a cold and snowy Christmas eve.
“Five dollars, no sir, I’m good just pay it forward” the words from someone he knew could have used it.”
Twenty years came and went in the blink of an eye. Mary was straightening Ed’s tie getting ready for his retirement party from the firm and the speech he would give during dinner.
“Mary, you know I don’t like speeches, I don’t know why I even agreed to it” Ed said as his voice trailed off.
"Ed," Mary counseled. “These people have known you for years, respect you, and want to hear from you, besides, I know you have a lot to say.”
“I know you’re right’ he muddled. "I just don’t need the attention."
The Introduction was very humbling for Ed, and he made sure that what he had to say was more about the people in the audience that loved and respected him.
He began, “Thank you for the kind introduction. Life passes by in the blink of an eye. This firm, and all of you have been my extended family and my life for a lot of years. I hope that in some way I have made a difference. We all get caught up in our day to day lives and sometimes we forget that others out there may not be as fortunate as we are here or have the opportunities we have in life.
Years ago, I met a young man on a cold snowy Christmas eve. He helped me without even asking when my car was stuck in the snow out here on Congress Street. He wouldn’t except any money, he just asked me to pay it forward. A young man that I knew could have used the money. I tell you that because a large part of who we become is based on our actions and many of those are selfless acts of kindness. I learned that if you genuinely have an interest in people, it will come back to you in countless ways."
He went on to close, “All of you here tonight are my family and have made a difference in my life. I will miss you all terribly but will think of you often.”
That’s the last thing Ed remembered saying. He awoke as they were wheeling him down the hall to an operating room. Mary was by his side holding his hand.
“Where am I” Ed said in a faint voice trying to remove his mask.
“You are going to be just fine Ed, you had a heart attack but it’s going got be fine.” The nurse said as she wheeled him quickly down the hall.
The surgery went on for what seemed like hours. Mary paced the floor, back and forth and most of the time just sat there lost in the past thirty-eight years of time well spent. She thought, if I lose him now it’s too soon
She prayed, god,” if you must take this man know that he is a good and faithful servant but if I may be so selfish as to ask for a few more years, I will be forever grateful and treasure each moment.”
Just then with her head in her hands, she felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Mam, I’m Dr. Duffy, your husband came through just fine. He is a strong man with a good heart and I think we have him fixed up to go quite a few more years. We had to do a bi pass, but everything went great."
“Thank you thank you” Mary said not making any attempt to hold back the tears of joy.
“He will be in recovery for a while and then we’ll get him up to a room” he added.
The next morning about 10am, Ed awoke with Mary by his side.
“How do you feel”, Mary asked as Ed gained his senses?
“Like I got hit by a Mack truck” he said.
Mary stayed at Ed’s side for several hours while the nurse came in periodically to check on him and as the afternoon slipped into evening, Ed awoke from a restful nap to see Mary asleep in an uncomfortable position in the chair. As he began to pull himself up slightly Mary also began to stir and wake up.
“I need you to go home and get some real sleep” Ed said, clearing his throat to get the words out. "I will be just fine and they are checking on me all the time".
Reluctantly Mary agreed, and after a long kiss on Ed’s forehead she looked into his eyes deeply and said ”I will see you first thing in the morning. I love you.”
As Mary was walking slowly down the hall she was greeted by Dr. Duffy walking towards her. He knew she didn’t see him because it was evident, she was dazed and lost in the emotion of the events and the thought of almost losing her husband.
“Good evening Mrs. Halloran, I’m Dr. Duffy, I performed the surgery on your husband, I spoke to you after the surgery.”
“Oh yes, yes, I’m’ so sorry” Mary said embarrassed that she hadn’t remembered his face.
“I wouldn’t expect you to” he replied in a comforting tone. “you have been through a lot in the last twenty-four hours. I know your husband and he is a strong man. I also know that you have an exceptionally good man there, someone who has paid it forward his whole life. Don’t you worry he isn’t going anywhere if I have anything to say about it. No, you go home and get some rest”.
“You Know Ed?" Mary asked with a bit of confusion.
“Let’s just say when you’re in my position you just get a feeling about people and I have the sense that you have a good man there.”
"Thank you, Dr. Duffy, I’m glad he is in such good hands"
Compelled to give each other a hug, the two embraced in the hallway for a moment and then Mary departed with a sense of ease she had not experienced all day.
Dr. Duffy continued down the hall, paused at Ed’s room for just a moment outside the door to collect his thoughts and then entered the room.
“Good Evening Mr. Halloran, John said as he approached the bed. I’m Dr. Duffy” he said softly as he placed his hand on Ed’s arm.
“Ed Halloran, nice to meet you. Am I going to make it doc” he said almost immediately half joking with an attempt to hide the concern.
“Well, it’s nice to see you again Ed, and yes, you are going to be fine, and like I just told Mary, especially if I have anything to say about it.”
“Nice to see me again, Ed replied almost under his breath putting things together in his mind which was still just a little cloudy.
“Wait, it’s you isn’t it.”
There was a long pause as they both looked at each other in a way that two old friends would do in a chance meeting after not seeing each other in years.
It is, I’m the kid you bought the coffee for a long time ago, and you Ed, you’re also the reason I’m standing here. I know it was you that paid for my education. Oh, I never knew for sure, but I suspected as much. John laughed slightly and went on. “I asked you to pay the five dollars forward that night but I never expected you to pay for my college education”.
Ed was speechless, he didn’t know how to respond and then clearing his throat again, he began: John, I knew the moment you wouldn’t take any money after pushing me out of that snow bank that you were special. You needed the money, yet you told me to pay it forward. I never in my wildest dreams expected to see you again but there is one thing I know, everything we do or say effects someone either positively or negatively. I hoped with all my heart,” he paused and chuckled for a moment,” my bad heart now I guess, that by helping you just a little it would make a difference and I thank god right now for that”. Ed’s eyes began to tear,” because I know that you have saved countless lives and made a difference in more ways than I can imagine.” He paused, and went on, “best cup of coffee and apple crisp I ever had.”
They both laughed, “Me too, me too”, John said. “You know I still go there occasionally and have thought of you often. And, the apple crisp is still great."
The two men spoke for what seemed like hours getting to know each other and exchanging stories. Ed’s heart may have been damaged, but it was full of life and gratitude. He felt complete knowing that this one selfless act of many made such a positive difference in the life of a young man who was cold and tired on a snowy Christmas eve.
As Ed recovered the two men met often over lunch at the Northeast diner and shared a warm piece of apple crisp and a cup of coffee. The two became close friends.
Ten years later at the news of Ed’s passing John quietly attended the funeral of his old friend. He again found himself embracing Mary in the reception line and he didn’t have to say a word Mary knew who he was.
"Thank you for coming Dr. Duffy. you gave us the best ten years of our lives together and I will be forever grateful. I’ve known since we had our will made with Ed’s intentions to donate for the new heart wing at Maine Medical center that it was you who helped him that night so many years ago and to you he paid it forward."
Later that month at the grand opening ceremony, John found himself at the podium to speak.
“I have been asked to say a few words today and I am incredibly humbled standing here to represent the hospital, my colleagues, the staff ,and the generous donors who have made this possible. I know that this new wing will allow us to help thousands of people and will have a lasting effect on people’s lives and our community.
If I may for a minute tell you why I am even standing here and why this building behind me was even possible. As a young man several years ago on a snowy Christmas eve, A middle aged man leaving work after hours was stuck in the snow. My mom had instilled in me that I should always help if I could and so I never hesitated. I didn’t accept the money he offered and as mom had taught me, I just asked him to pay it forward. He did give me a lift, bought me a cup of coffee and some warm apple crisp that we both agreed years later was the best we ever had. You see that man was Ed Halloran. At the mention of Ed's name you could hear the whispering in the audience. Ed was a man who went quietly about his life helping people whenever he could. He paid it forward more times than anyone here will ever know. Ed found out I that night I was struggling to get through the University of Maine working two jobs and so he paid for my entire education. He sent a grant anomalously to the school and then to John Hopkins where I completed my residency and fellowship. I knew it was him even though there was no official way for me to know.
Ten years ago, Ed had a severe heart attack and as fate would have it, I was on call when he and Mary his wife of thirty-eight years and here today, arrived at the hospital. It was my honor to perform the surgery on my old friend and by the grace of god give him ten more wonderful years with Mary. I wish he were sitting here today but that would not be like him. He wanted only to make a difference while quietly going about his life.
In medicine we are able to save lives and some we are not able to regardless of all our efforts. Life is precious and life is short when you think about our own fragile life span. Stephen Covey said in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to “Live love laugh learn and leave a legacy.” Ed quietly accomplished all of that and much more.
I will be forever grateful to the man I hardly knew then but was blessed through his event ten years ago to know him personally these last years of his life. He made a difference in my life and lives of so many others. This building, this structure of brick and mortar, and the people who will work within its walls will ensure that Ed Halloran has made a difference in the lives of more people than he will ever know.
And now it is my pleasure and with great honor and privilege to dedicate today, The Edward Halloran Heart Center. Ed Told me that he knew that everything we do or say in our lives effects someone positively or negatively and I will add so to the selfless acts of paying it forward. It is because of his one act of kindness that his legacy and this center will make a difference in people’s lives for years to come.
So, thank you for coming today and if you take anything away from this, ask, what small thing can you do today and every day to make a difference? Thank you and god bless.”
Selfless acts of kindness, giving something without asking for anything in return, paying it forward so that someone else can also have the opportunity to make a difference, will have an effect that is far reaching, more than we could ever imagine.
The Ed Halloran’s of this world are the leaders that spawn a legacy that will transcend their life here on earth. They give of themselves in the hope of bringing out the best in the people they have touched planting the seeds of future greatness wherever they go.
John Duffy knew while he was operating on Ed that in his care, he was going to do everything he could do to save his life. He paid it forward, giving Ed Ten more precious years but because of Ed, he would also do the same for countless others throughout his career.