For months I’ve been contemplating a post on social and relationship capital and how it’s built and then how it’s spent. And after a trip to Memphis earlier this week, to see my mom’s aunt (my great aunt) honored at a ceremony where she donated her honors and awards to the University of Memphis it all became so clear to me.
Elma Neal Roane has dedicated her entire life to education and her students, I’m planning to profile her here soon so I won’t go through all of her accomplishments. She is recognized as a pioneer and leader in physical education and sports in the state of Tennessee. She was head of the Women’s Division for sports at the University of Memphis from 1946-1976. The fieldhouse at the University known as “the house that she built” is named for her and I’m told it’s the only fieldhouse in the country named for a woman.
On Tuesday, there was a reception at Brister Hall, and it was the formal unveiling of her awards, honors and papers both academic and athletic. There were over 100 people who came to see my 91 year old aunt, not the honors and awards. Everyone who came had a very personal story of how she had touched their lives. I was in awe to hear the stories from young and old, all of them spoke of the impact she has made on their life. A life of building relationships, participating in the community, giving back, not just with her money but her time as well. I have to tell you, in my mind, she is the embodiment of what Chris Brogan calls a Trust Agent, person after person stood up and talked about her integrity, the goodness that she worked so tirelessly bring to all of those who knew her and many who never knew her but experienced the fruits of her labor. At one point during the day, she turned to me and said “Everyone keeps talking about all I’ve done for women, but I worked for the men and human rights as well. I stood up for anyone who needed to be stood up for as long as I believed it was the right thing to do.”
As things were winding down, I had the privilege of sitting alone with my aunt and just chatting. At 91 years old, she’s still a leader and still wanting to mentor and educate the best she can. And while she was thankful for the honor on Tuesday, I’m confident that what she enjoyed the most was talking to the people. She was genuinely moved that so many people gave up part of their day to come and see her. While we were sitting there I said to her, “I’m in awe of all the goodness you have created how did you do it?” She responded:
“Everything I did, I did because I had a passion for it, not just the education but the students as well. I’ve dedicated my life to promoting fellowship, honor and integrity, and we need more teachers who are pushing that as well. That’s my passion, keep on keeping on!” (her personal mantra)
What I’ve learned from a lifetime of knowing my aunt, is that social and relationship capital is acquired through service, fellowship, and a deep passion for people. And it’s how we build and spend that capital that defines you, I watched on Tuesday as many accomplished people, some celebrities, got up and thanked my aunt for her service, and more than one said she was their hero. They were powerful moments, but she accomplished all she did because she loved her work and wanted to make the world a better place. She never gave any thought to what was in it for her, she fought hard for what was right in her mind, and with honor and integrity, she made sacrifices, had discouraging times but she always stayed the course. She used her capital to build leaders, pave the way for the future and for improving human rights.
My question to you is: what are you doing with the social and relationship capital you are building? Are you leaving a legacy of goodness? Are you working for what really matters most?