I can still recall the day we met as part of the Z. Smith Reynolds Community Leadership Council. As we hopped on the bus to head to dinner you posed a question, and I replied, “Yes, ma’am.”
You believed I was calling you old, when in reality I was just trying to apply the lessons my family back in Lenoir had taught me over the years.
Lenoir is a small town, but it has contributed many remarkable men and women to North Carolina over the years. Your father was one of them.
I believe our conversations about Lenoir over the course of the first few days of meeting — ranging from picking up to go comfort food at Giovanni’s, to shopping for groceries at the old Harris Teeter, to the Lenoir Mall which you saw in its glory years and I saw primarily in decline — helped cement our friendship.
I am deeply sorry you have lost your father — and deeply honored to have spent some time with him, even though it was brief.
Over the last few days I tried to find the words to describe the loss of a father, something I have yet to deal with, and I found a passage that Robert Kennedy wrote about his own father which seemed apt for Dennis Rash:
“What it really all adds up to is love — not love as it is described with such facility in popular magazines, but the kind of love that is affection and respect, order and encouragement, and support. Our awareness of this was an incalculable source of strength, and because real love is something unselfish and involves sacrifice and giving, we could not help but profit from it.
“Beneath it all, he has tried to engender a social conscience. There were wrongs which needed attention. There were people who were poor and needed help. And we have a responsibility to them and to this country. Through no virtues and accomplishments of our own, we have been fortunate enough to be born in the United States under the most comfortable conditions. We, therefore, have a responsibility to others who are less well off.”
Dennis had a gigantic impact on Charlotte, and therefore our state, and a big part of his continued impact is the remarkable daughter that he raised.
Mebane, you have taught our entire staff that we have a responsibility to the people of North Carolina. You remind us each day that our central responsibility is to the children of North Carolina — and that our first rule must be to do no harm.
Dennis taught your family to value travel, and we can all see that as you push us to explore the highways and byways of North Carolina, to treat the schools and communities of our state as our office, and to tell the story of the future of education through the prism of trips to China, India, Singapore, and beyond.
I believe Dennis taught you through formal and informal lessons that one of the most valuable qualities of a leader is to put people first — and you live that each day as CEO of EdNC.
We speak often of the need to “bear witness” — of the choice that we must make each day to stand beside one another and to support each other through moments large and small, challenging and joyful, turbulent and triumphant.
And then, unprompted, one of our board members this week told the assembled crowd in Madison County that the work of EdNC is to bear witness to the people of North Carolina, to document and share their stories, to amplify their hopes and dreams, to reach into their communities and remind us all that we are all in it together.
The mark of great leadership is that their values become baked into the organization by virtue of the way that they lead. Dennis taught you to bear witness for the important people in your life — I know because you were there after I lost my beloved wife and you have never left since — and you have since led our organization with the same ethos. It has become our work without the need for memos and meetings to make it that way.
Your father was a great North Carolinian — and your parents raised a great North Carolinian who pushes us forward to tell the stories, connect the dots, and build the bridges to make North Carolina a better state for all of our people.
PS – I am also reminded of a poem you shared with me once…
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”