Have you ever met someone who inspired you to want to be a good or even a great human being? Someone who maybe changed the way you thought about greatness?
In 1961, when Pat Conroy (author of The Great Santini and other novels) was 17, he met such a man: William E. Dufford, the principal of Beaufort High School in Beaufort, South Carolina.
Bill Dufford gave young Pat a job as groundskeeper the summer before his senior year. When the principal took him to lunch, Pat saw the way Dufford moved from table to table, interacting with all kinds of people in the town.
“He made friendliness an art form,” Conroy would say many years later when he was speaking at an event to honor Dufford. “He knew everyone by their first name.”
Conroy spoke about what he saw in Bill Dufford: a man who moved with ease and confidence through his day; a man who was passionate and articulate; a man who had high ideals and yet was enjoyable to be with.
And then, recalling his 17-year-old self, Conroy said:
“I decided I would become the kind of man that Bill Dufford was born to be. I wanted to be the type of man that a whole town could respect and honor and fall in love with—the way Beaufort did when Bill Dufford came to town to teach and shape and turn its children into the best citizens they could be.”
There are many ways to define greatness. Here is one: “To aspire to be the kind of person that others could respect and honor and enjoy being with.”
Or, as Mark Twain put it:
“Live so that even the undertaker will be sorry to see you go.”