Never Retire Live and Lead Until Your Last Day on Earth
Jack McCoy, my stepfather, passed away two weeks ago on Sunday. The day before, I was on a Zoom meeting with him and the Board of Directors for HOPE Literacy, a local, now global, ministry that champions literacy through churches. During the meeting, Jack had oxygen on through a nasal cannula. As chairman, I asked him to comment when we discussed the launch of our first international site in Nicaragua, which had been Jack’s idea. The only time he spoke during the meeting, due to his shortness of breath, he told us that we must think not only about Nicaragua, but Guatemala, Central and even South America. Later the same day he texted me:
Great meeting. Excited with fund raising, grants, new sites in Reno, Nicaragua, Guatemala. You did good! HOPE is blessed with your leadership. Love you.
Jack led and expanded our vision until his last day. Literally. He pushed and encouraged me and others consistently until his actual last day on Earth. Jack was 91, and though he retired from his career as a teacher, he never retired from life. He lived and led until his last day.
Here are a few memories and lessons from Jack’s life.
Jack was a Korean War veteran in the Navy on a tugboat. After his first wife and only daughter died, he found purpose in global mission work, traveling many times to China, South Korea, and Taiwan. In 2011 at age 83, he married my mom, who was just 74 at the time. Shortly after the wedding, Jack bought a convertible. I was both shocked and amused; I thought driving a convertible was a young man’s thing. Then he took my mom to honeymoon in Hawaii. Last year, on his 90th birthday, I asked what he wanted for his birthday. He told me, “I would like to go Hawaii one more time.” We went. He was stationed in Hawaii during his time in the Navy and found it to be beautiful. I think it also reminded him of his younger days. Several years ago I wrote an article detailing some of Jack’s adventures entitled The Youngest Guy I Know.
About six years ago, I traveled with Jack and Mom and my nephew to Ireland, to see Jack’s ancestral land. While there, Jack said, “We need to go kiss the Blarney Stone.” So we drove to County Cork, to Blarney Castle, walked up to the top of the tower, laid down on our backs, contorted our bodies (the only way to reach the smooth limestone) while a local attendant held on to us so we wouldn’t slip down the side of the castle, and we kissed the stone. Jack said, “Now we will be eloquent in speech.”
Lesson: While our body gets old, our spirit must not.
Never Retire from Life
For most, when we stop working, we stop living and dreaming. Jack retired from teaching in a school, but he never retired from life.
In 2013, I discovered that Jack had written a manuscript for a book, but never published it. I read the manuscript and loved it. I told him, “Jack, let’s publish your book.” Andria Flores, my good friend and the editor of my leadership articles, helped him. We published his book, A Tugboat Sailor, a well written narrative of a young man drafted from the small Texas town of Cleburne, who sailed the world with the US Navy. We arranged a celebratory book launch, complete with a color guard, and even a bagpiper. Jack gave a speech under the canopy of a large oak tree, guests mingled at dusk, and Jack sat down at a table to sign his books. At 85, he was now a published author.
A few months afterward, now age 86, I told Jack, “There are many more books in you.” I did not know if he would write another book. But he did! With Andria’s help, Jack published GO!, a book about missions work. At age 88, I said Jack, “Let’s do another book! I would like this one to be about the greatest lessons you’ve learned in your life.” He started an outline, but a few months later, he said “W” (as he called me), I think I am not able to do another book.” I nudged and encouraged a little, but knowing how much energy a book project requires, ultimately I relented.
Jack told me that I am to be the guardian of his published books after his passing, and now I am. I will always treasure this honor.
Lesson: Publish books well into your 80s. In other words, go after whatever big dream you have, regardless of your age.
One afternoon several years back, Jack sat down and shared with me lessons from his life. At the time, I published a leadership podcast, so I asked Jack if he would be one of my guests and share his lessons with me in an interview. One of my favorite lessons that I still quote all the time from Jack is: If you don’t risk your life, you’ll lose it. If you’d like to hear Jack and glean a few lessons from a wise man, click on this link.
He pushed himself and others around him until his last day. Our HOPE Literacy board owes Jack. He is the reason we are now an international ministry. Our local church owes him much for their transformation. Our country owes him for his service.
Jack was encouraging to everyone he knew. Two weeks before he passed, he told me something he had said to me before, “W, you are going to be the president one day.” Of course I cannot be because I was not born in the US. But that’s the kind of man Jack was. He thought the world of you.
Lesson: Invest into the people God places in your life.
A Life Well Lived
Jack was a master gardener and always stopped to look at beautiful flowers, and he made sure everyone around him stopped as well. He collected small (and not so small) porcelain and concrete hippos. He had around 50 of them. If you ever come to my house, I would love to show them to you…he left those for me as well. Above all, Jack honored God and aimed to tell everyone he knew about the Bible and how we must all serve the Kingdom.
Since Sunday two weeks ago, some have told me, “May he rest in peace.” I somehow think, in heaven now, Jack is not resting. Jack never rested… he was always up to something. He is probably telling Jesus about the Korean War or one of the many other stories Jack loved to tell.
Jack never had a son. A few years ago, he told me, “W, you are the son I never had.” Jack was a dad any son would love to have.