Broadmoor United Methodist Church
1:00 p.m. on Monday, August 30, 2010
Some of you here know James Creswell Gardner as a state legislator, others know him as a mayor, others know him as the chairman of the City of Shreveport’s first city council, and still others know him as a leader, a mentor or a friend, but to his grandchildren, he’s just Big Daddy.
Gulf Shores, Alabama, May 2006
John Caverlee, James Caverlee, Ellen Caverlee holding Luke Caverlee, Will Caverlee, Sam Caverlee, Jim Gardner holding Thomas Caverlee
There has been much debate in our family this week as to who came up with the nickname, but if Al Gore can claim he invented the Internet, then I will lay claim to his name. Trust me, you have not truly lived life until you’ve closed a large business deal with a room full of folks in fancy suits only to have your assistant come in and tell you Big Daddy is holding on line one!
The last time I delivered a talk to a crowd of this size was a commencement address to the Byrd High School Class of 1989. I was only 18 years old and uncertain of how to properly address such a large crowd. Just as I would do so many times in my life when faced with a difficult decision, I reached out to our grandfather. He suggested I read Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and so I delivered the poem to the assembled crowd and closed with its familiar verse…”Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled”.
As a grandparent, our grandfather also took the road less traveled. He chose the road of establishing a deep and meaningful relationship individually with each one of us. He made time to visit us in each of our homes, be it in Shreveport or New Orleans, Dallas or College Station, Palo Alto or Washington D.C.
And when he came to visit us, he didn’t just stop in for a quick, superficial visit. Oh no! He wanted to learn. To learn about us and learn about our home.
Where did we like to read the newspaper?
Where did we like to eat dinner?
Where did we like to sit at the end of a long, hard day at the office?
This yearning to be a part of our lives and to gain a greater understanding of us carried over from our personal lives and into our jobs and our studies. He didn’t just know where you worked, he knew about the people you worked with, the clients you served, the route you took to and from work and just about any other detail you might imagine.
Birthdays were always a special time with our grandfather. When you turned 13, he would take you to a one-on-one lunch and talk to you about what it meant to be a teenager. Before exchanging stories about him this week, we each thought we were the only one who had the privilege of the 13th Birthday lunch. That’s how focused on each of us and how special he made each of us feel, like we were the only grandchild at that moment at that time with him.
His gifts were well thought out and almost always personal. A gift card would always be to your favorite restaurant, which was also usually one of the more expensive establishments in town. A book would always come with a well-crafted inscription.
Stan Tiner wrote a wonderful piece on our grandfather’s decision to not seek re-election to the Shreveport City Council. In the political arena, Mr. Tiner said, you would always receive a fair and objective hearing from Jim Gardner, and you always knew you would receive an honest appraisal.
This carried over to his personal relationships with us. Many times we would tell him about one of our accomplishments and sometimes, to our surprise, we would not receive the immediate praise we were seeking. You see our grandfather set a high bar for himself, but he also set a high bar for us. And, I think in doing so, he pushed us. But, when it was time for his praise, it made you feel so much more special. Since our grandfather was such a scholarly man, our graduations from high school, college, graduate school, law school and most recently, medical school, made him so proud.
He taught us so many things; and most often those teachings came through the way he lived his life.
First, God and family were of paramount importance, but he had a genuine desire to serve his community and he challenged us to do the same
Second, if it was a crisp Autumn Saturday night, there was no better place to be than near a radio or television to follow the Fighting Tigers of LSU.
Third, his interest in politics – the strategy, the decisions, the process, the political races and his love for these things trickled down to all of us.
Fourth, his love of Shreveport and of the State of Louisiana – most of us have stayed close by or just across the border in the Western Louisiana Province known as Texas.
And, finally and most importantly, our grandfather taught us that we should live our lives with high moral principles………. intellectual honesty……….and personal integrity. When our grandfather lost his re-election bid in 1958 at the ripe age of 35, which I will point out to you is almost 5 years younger than my age today, the Shreveport Times stated “people have sat back in amazement and astonishment as he persisted in doing what he thought was right for Shreveport, regardless of its effect on his personal political fortunes.”
And although, we will always live by the Golden Rule, we also try to live by the Gardner Rule…
In everything you do,
Try to do what is right,
Try to do what is fair,
Try to do what is just,
Regardless of the benefit to you.
To us, in defeat, our grandfather taught us his greatest lesson of all.
Our grandfather delivered a commencement address of his own to the LSU-Shreveport Class of 1976. His reflections on that address, which was given at what he described as one of the most difficult and painful times of his life, were so eloquent they were transcribed and later republished in Reader’s Digest. I believe his remarks might provide some guidance to each of us here today and so, now, I would like to repeat the words our grandfather spoke over 34 years ago:
Faith is essential. The following verse illustrates that point: I said to a man who stood at the gate of the years, ‘Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown,’ and he replied, ‘Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you, better than a light, and safer than a known way.’”
Our grandfather continued, “It seems this verse represents the type of faith we need to cope with the adversities of life – the adversities that are an inevitable part of life.”
And for me it is the type of faith that allows us to heal from the sadness and the sorrow resulting from such adversities.
So, in closing,
Today, the City of Shreveport says goodbye to its First Citizen.
Today, his family and friends say goodbye to a good, kind and tender man.
Today, his grandchildren say goodbye to a grandfather, a confidant and a best
John Gardner Caverlee
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