Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pay It Forward

In April 2008 I was invited to my parents alma mater, Whitter College, to be the guest speaker at their 50th Annual Scholarship Appreciation Luncheon. I'll be attending the 52nd Annual event today and thought I'd reprint my speech so I could share the history of the Marcus Quarles Scholarship Endowment and my passion for the Organ Donor Program. Thanks for reading.

I’m here today in memory of my father, Merrill Jessup, who graduated from Whittier College in 1953. He passed away December 29th, but his love of higher education, and fierce loyalty to his alma mater, will live on through The Marcus Quarles Scholarship.

Today, I am joined by members of my family; my husband Ken, my brother Greg, and my mother, Joan Jessup, also a Whittier College graduate. Although we grieve the loss of my Dad, today we come to celebrate with senior Chris Tarver, the inaugural Quarles Scholarship recipient.

I’d like to begin by telling you a little history about my Dad and why this scholarship was created.

My father was born here in Whittier, at the Burkett Maternity Home on May 19, 1931. His parents were Walter and Doris Landreth Jessup, both 1924 graduates of Whittier College.

My father, and his younger brother Al, were raised in Thousand Oaks, CA. My father worked many jobs trying to help supplement the family income and to save for college. One of his jobs was being a paperboy for the Los Angeles Times. In 1949, the year my Dad graduated from high school, he applied for, and won the LA Times Young Timers Scholarship. This scholarship paid full tuition to any college of his choice. His choice was Whittier College.

Although he could have chosen any college in the United States, Whittier College was a sentimental favorite since his parents and many of his relatives were alumni.

Whittier proved to be an excellent choice for my Dad, both academically and personally. This is where he met my mother, and where they created a lifetime of close friendships.

Throughout my life, I’ve enjoyed hearing my parents, and the majority of their friends reminiscing about their time here at Whittier. It’s been over 50 years but the stories still make them all laugh. As a child, it was fun hearing my parents talk about all the crazy things they did here on campus. We’d giggle and say, “You did what???” We heard about Wanberg Hall, the Sachsens, the pretty Palmer girls, the Campus Inn and the Rock.

To this day, they continue to be loyal Whittier College alumni, with some still sitting on various Boards of the college. My mother continues to meet monthly with Whittier gals to play bridge. Before he passed away, my Dad organized a new group called the Whittier Old Farts, also known as the WOF’s…so the men would have their own events to plan.

For the students who are here today, I envy you. You are fortunate to study at such a prestigious, private university so rich in history and traditions. I can assure you, you will graduate with more than a college degree. You will take with you cherished memories and relationships that will last a lifetime. I know my parents, and their friends have been thankful for their time at Whittier College. I’m sure you feel as they do, and will want to be generous and active alumni. By doing this, you will join those who like to “PAY IT FORWARD.”

We’ve all heard the term “PAY IT FORWARD,” right? It means doing something good for another person because someone has already helped you along the way. It was important to my Dad to PAY IT FORWARD. He felt he owed many. He was first inspired by the LA Times, for their generosity back in 1949 when they sent him to Whittier College on a 4 year, full ride scholarship. An opportunity he would not have had, without that gift.

Then, a life altering event in November 2000, cemented my fathers desire to PAY IT FORWARD. It began when my father’s heart stopped and he collapsed while boarding a plane in San Diego. He ended up in the care of Sharp Memorial Hospital. He was 68 years old, very sick and was told he needed a heart transplant to survive.

Typically, patients who are 68 years old are not accepted into heart transplant programs. At first, we were told he’d probably be referred to UCLA, where they might take older patients. In the end, the Sharp Hospital - Heart Transplant Program accepted my Dad.

The transplant team said his acceptance into their program was based on many factors, but these being the most influential: his positive attitude, having a supportive family, not being overweight, and that he didn’t smoke. These factors are all what contribute to a successful and long life, and ones we can all aspire to achieve!

My Dad waited 18 months for a transplant. In November 2000, he received the phone call that would save his life. A donor heart had just become available and he needed to get to Sharp Hospital immediately.

While we all made our way with excitement to Sharp Hospital, there was another family arriving to say goodbye to their first born child. His name was Marcus Quarles. Marcus was a young man from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. When he was 15 years old, he told his parents he wanted to be an organ donor.

In November 2000, Marcus was in his early 20’s, serving in the US Navy in San Diego. He had just returned from duty in the Pacific and was enjoying a night out with friends when he was in a car accident caused by a drunk driver.

When Marcus’ parents arrived in San Diego, they remembered his wishes, and when he was declared “brain dead,” they made sure to fulfill Marcus’ desire to be an organ donor. Seven individuals received organs donated by Marcus. My Dad received his heart.

The transplant team told us that six months after a transplant, they will allow correspondence between donor families and transplant patients to begin, if each party agrees. We told them we definitely wanted contact with the donor family. Seven months after the transplant, my Dad received a letter from Lawrence and Darlene Quarles, the parents of Marcus. My Dad asked the Quarles if our family could travel to Tuscaloosa on the 1st anniversary of Marcus’ death to express our gratitude for his decision to be an organ donor.

The meeting turned into something far more meaningful than any of us ever dreamed possible.

Marcus became a real person to us; a beloved son, grandson, older brother, cousin and friend. We sat for hours hearing stories, pouring through photo albums, and getting to know the person whose heart I watched that night thumping inside my Dad’s chest. Their generosity was astounding. We were at a large table in a restaurant and other patrons overheard what was going on at our table. A few came to tell us what an amazing story it was.

Later that night in our hotel, my Dad reflected on the whole experience and wanted to find a way to honor the memory of Marcus. That is when the idea for the Marcus Quarles Scholarship was born.

After meeting the family of Marcus Quarles, my Dad decided how HE was going to PAY IT FORWARD. His idea would combine the inspiration by his own LA Times Scholarship, his love of Whittier College, and belief in higher education. He wanted to honor the memory of a young man he never met, who taught him the importance of the organ donor program.

The first thing my Dad did to begin the process …was to pledge himself as an organ donor, and communicate that desire to his family. Then he established criteria for awarding the Marcus Quarles Scholarship. He decided the student would –

• Have to be a full time student at Whittier College
• Have the need for financial aid
• Be African American, to honor the heritage of Marcus Quarles
• Lastly, and most importantly, the student must have designated on his/her driver’s license their intent to be an organ donor, and make those wishes known to their family.

Two years ago, I sat here at this same luncheon with my Dad. He was excited as The Marcus Quarles Scholarship was introduced. He was looking forward to the luncheon this year, and having the opportunity to meet the first recipient. While it’s painful not having him here to celebrate, I keep reminding myself that his dreams will play out here at Whittier, and he lived 7 extra years because a 15 year old kid told his parents he wanted to be an organ donor.

My Dad taught us you have to practice what you preach. Many years ago, a Navy pilot came to my Dad seeking advice on leadership before leaving on a dangerous overseas mission. He told the pilot, “Do not ask of someone what YOU are not willing to do yourself, lead from the front and you will be followed, if your people trust your judgment.”

After his transplant, my Dad started asking everyone he knew if they were an organ donor. When he passed away on December 29th, it was only a few hours until he fulfilled his dreams of PAYING IT FORWARD, literally. He practiced what he preached. He did what he asked others to do, because he too became an organ donor.

One of my favorite sayings is, “The reward for a good deed is to have done it.” After you think awhile about the saying, “The reward for a good deed is to have done it,” you come away reminded that it’s not important to have flags waved about your good works. The reward comes from the simple act of doing it. Good deeds are still good whether or not they get recognized out loud. The good will always prevail.

It’s what I personally love about the organ donor program. It’s something you give to, and the reward will come after you are gone. It’s the ultimate in humility. If I’ve ever had a bad day and think my contributions to this world are meaningless or small, I take out my Drivers License and search for the small pink sticker at the bottom. That important little pink sticker says DONOR, and I’m instantly reminded that I’ve already laid the groundwork for something valuable. It will pay when I am gone with the greatest gift I can offer, the gift of life.

Ask a mother whose child would have died if it hadn’t received a donated organ.

Ask a child whose parent lived because he received a donated organ. You can ask me.

We’ll both tell you that seeing our child or parent survive with a donated organ was a miracle.

Marcus didn’t get any accolades for the good deeds he posthumously bestowed upon 7 individuals. But his gifts were far greater than the simple things we often try to do; hoping for tangible rewards, praise and recognition for things like donations of our time and money.

Marcus is a symbol to me, a reminder of PAYING IT FORWARD. He reminds me of how a REWARD comes from committing to do something, not from the recognition.

I urge all of you today to consider joining me, in the spirit of Marcus Quarles, and my father Merrill Jessup, to PAY IT FORWARD.

Reach back somehow, in some way, and help someone… anyone because we all sit here knowing we’ve received. Somebody paved the way for us, somebody made a sacrifice, somebody believed in us somewhere along the way. Was it a teacher? Your parents? A friend? With that person as your inspiration, go out into the world and do something that will benefit another human being.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Skipping Christmas

I suck at Christmas. Most people wouldn’t believe that, but I do. I love Jesus, and the simple story of how he was born in a manger to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. But I wish we could celebrate his birth every year without any of the ridiculous hoopla that is now called Christmas.

My favorite Christmas decoration is a ceramic Jesus in a worn manger we’ve always placed on the hearth. Jesus is chipped, missing the ends of a few fingers and is wearing a loincloth Stephanie made Him when she was a little girl. The children were always allowed to play with Jesus and the manger, so they are a little beat up. I wanted my kids to know Jesus like I do; most likely very approachable, extremely kind, and someone who adored children. “Of course you may play with Jesus,” I’d tell them.

Each year as I unpack the 30+ boxes of Christmas decorations, somewhere in the neighborhood of Thanksgiving weekend, I can feel the familiar panic already starting to set in. I’m trying to find Jesus in all this, thinking, “Where is He…where did I pack Him last year?" If I find Jesus and put him on the hearth, I think I’ll be ok. He’ll be a blatant reminder of why I’m doing all this.

There was one year, 2008, with Jesus’ birthday quickly approaching I knew I was going to have to lead my family away from our traditional Christmas, and Skip Christmas completely. Could I do it? Would I be allowed? What would my family and others say? What would Jesus think? I had to close myself in a dark, quiet room to drown out all the “noise,” so I could hear Him.

I’ve decided spending 12 glorious, uninterrupted, carefree vacation days in the company of my husband and children was the holiest thing we’ve ever done. If home is where your heart is, I was home cruising the blue-green seas of the Caribbean, snorkeling, sailing, swimming, sleeping, reading, listening, resting, sunning, and basking in the 24 hour attention of my family. We immediately opened the doors to our adjoining rooms, and shared long, luxurious meals that were prepared, served and cleaned up after by others.

Those 12 days did not come cheap. Christmas doesn’t either, so we had to choose one or the other. We are blessed to have families who love us unconditionally & who wished us all a wonderful trip, possibly having broken hearts and hurt feelings. That’s love though. Our families knew I needed those 12 days of vacation, and to Skip Christmas to survive.

It had been a long haul for me trying to help care for my ailing Dad. After we lost him, I gained many new responsibilities, so many of which I had no understanding. Thankfully, I got a lot of help from my dear Godfather, one of my Dad’s best friends, Tony Pierno, an attorney in private practice.

Towards the end of 2008, I knew I needed to get in a quiet place and listen for a special voice who would give me some direction. What I heard was that I was going to heal. I heard I needed to stop and allow myself to feel. I heard I needed to say the words out loud that my heart was broken and I missed my Dad, who was also one of my best friends. I needed to say the words I can’t do everything, all the time, for everyone. I needed to say I was exhausted, drained, stressed beyond my breaking point and I can’t do Christmas this year. Those are not easy things for me. I am half Merrill, half Joan. Complain? Wimp out? Me? It’s not what we do!

While I was raising my children, taking care of my husband, our home, various jobs, a sick Dad, and a variety of other tasks, I was always going at 100 mph and rarely ever sleeping. Why then, was I in my quiet place, sobbing, thinking I was a complete loser because I couldn’t face a simple go-round with Christmas?

If that were someone else, I’d probably cry for them. I’d tell them to Skip Christmas and have a wonderful, relaxing vacation, they’d earned it. It took me longer to be kinder to myself and to hear His comforting words. He was offering to carry me again, and I was fighting it, always wanting to drag myself farther. I’m honestly like a 3 year old that screams, “No! Me do!”

Thank you God, my forever Abba Patare for your unending patience with me. I always want to be in control. Thank you for helping me understand how the celebration of your birth lives within my heart wherever I go. I’m still learning to let go and let you lead. I’m 48, but still just your child.