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Old School Speech Lessons for the Modern World — Kissinger’s Eulogy to Sen. John McCain

29 Sep

    As time has passed since the passing of the late Sen. John McCain, this is a good time not to pass over one of the better eulogies in his memory and the lessons it offers to communicators. 

    At McCain’s own request, President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama led the eulogies and stole the headlines.  McCain wanted it that way.  He wanted the world to see that in America we settle political scores at the ballot box and thereafter break bread at the table of ideals.  But buried among the communion crumbs was a speech that students of political and social rhetoric should take note.  It came from none other than Henry Kissinger.   

    In many respects, these two men share nothing in common, and yet everything in common.  Separated by a generation, they represent different chapters in American history. Kissinger’s coming of age came during a time when American power was ascending, McCain’s came when American power was fracturing.  But Kissinger’s flight from Nazi tyranny formed his views on the ideals and values of America every bit much as communist captivity formed McCain’s. 

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Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Senator Joe Lieberman, and Meghan McCain were among the speakers eulogizing the late Senator John McCain at his September 1st funeral.

    The former Secretary of State under President Nixon, and co-recipient of the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a ceasefire in the Vietnam War is not especially noted for his oratory.  The plodding, bookish, and deliberative elder statesman speaks with a heavy German-accented monotone that is the antithesis 21stcentury talking heads. But his eulogy of Sen. McCain was a speech writing lesson in structure, substance and delivery. 

    By contemporary standards his eulogy was short, just 738 words.   But it carried exponentially more power, focus and ultimately a more forceful persuasion of McCain’s legacy than did a wandering speech by Sen. Joseph Lieberman who rambled for more than 20 minutes, often times talking more about himself.  Kissinger’s eulogy had a clear beginning, middle, and end.  In the first two sentences, he tells the audience what the speech is all about—one of history’s great personalities that remind us of unity and sustaining values.  “John McCain was one of those gifts of destiny,” said Kissinger.  Every word that followed supported and transcended this notion.

    Kissinger powerfully attempted to prove that gift of destiny with an admission of his own guilt.  Guilt about what he too didn’t do in life and what he couldn’t do.  The former diplomat acknowledged that he had the chance to free McCain during his negotiations with Hanoi to end the Vietnam War.  McCain thanked his captors for the offer, but refused. Kissinger had to wait until 1973 to finally meet McCain at a White House reception for several prisoners who were finally freed.  Kissinger remembered, “When we finally met, his greeting was both self effacing and moving. ‘Thank you for saving my honor.’”  It was all because as Kissinger noted, that in the McCain family national service was its own reward that did allow for special treatment.

    Kissinger noted that McCain, too, returned to an America divided over its presidency and the direction of the country. Perhaps in an affront to the current administration, Kissinger skillfully challenged the notion that America cannot retreat from the world stage.   McCain, he said, would never allow for it.  “In this manner John McCain’s name became synonymous with an America that reached out to the powerful to be loyal and reach out to the oppressed,” said Kissinger.

    Perhaps most powerfully, Kissinger reflected upon his own failings as a world leader to instill hope and set for a call for action.  “Like most people my age, I feel a longing for what is lost and cannot be restored,” reflected Kissinger.  He then hypothesized that if beauty and youth are fleeting and short lived, then sacrifice for the greater good is ultimately what endures—qualities McCain proved.

    His conclusion was as short and strong as his “gift of destiny” beginning.   As if to put an exclamation point on his opening sentence, Kissinger declared, “The world will be lonelier without John McCain.” But in perhaps a tribute to the late Senator he challenged all Americans to fill the void.  Kissinger concluded, “Henceforth, the country’s honor is ours to sustain.”

     But it was more than Kissinger’s words.  Students of speech and communicators who want to better connect with their audiences should also pay close attention to Kissinger’s delivery. He spoke in short, declarative sentences.  Each one commanded its own power.  They willed the listener to pay attention.  In a teleprompter world, Kissinger goes back to an era where oratory was delivered from paper and memory, not from glass.  For reference, go back and watch every JFK speech, especially his “We choose the moon” address.  It’s a skillset where the speaker delivers no more words than the simple sentences and thoughts in front of him.  With this style, Kissinger created a cadence and rhythm that drew in the listener.

      It was certainly not the most talked about eulogy of John McCain.  McCain’s daughter, Meghan delivered her own powerfully emotional and political charged memorial to her father.  In a headline news world, Kissinger didn’t make the cut.  But for communicators his words deserve serious study because they offer a highly focused rhetorical map in a Google Maps world.

Here is the text of Henry Kissinger’s eulogy on Sen. McCain:

   Our country has had the good fortune that at times of national trial a few great personalities have emerged to remind us of our essential unity and inspire us our sustaining values. John McCain was one of those gifts of destiny. 

   I met john for the first time in April, 1973 at a White House reception for prisoners returned from captivity in Vietnam. He had been much on my mind during the negotiation to end the Vietnam War, oddly also because his father, then commander in chief of the Pacific command, when briefing the president answered references to his son by saying only “I pray for him.” 

   In the McCain family national service was its own reward that did not allow for special treatment. I thought of that when his Vietnamese captors during the final phase of negotiations offered to release John so that he could return with me on the official plane that had brought me to Hanoi. Against all odds, he thanked them for the offer but refused it. When we finally met, his greeting was both self effacing and moving. “Thank you for saving my honor.” He did not tell me then or ever that he had had an opportunity to be freed years earlier but had refused, a decision for which he had to endure additional periods of isolation and hardship. Nor did he ever speak of his captivity again during the near half century of close friendship. 

   John’s focus was on creating a better future. As a senator, he supported the restoration of relations with Vietnam, helped bring it about on a bipartisan basis in the Clinton administration and became one of the advocates of reconciliation with his enemy. Honor, it is an intangible quality, not obligatory. It has no code. It reflects an inward compulsion, free of self interest. It fulfills a cause, not a personal ambition.  It represents what a society lives for beyond the necessities of the moment. Love makes life possible; honor and nobility. For john it was a way of life. 

   John returned to America divided over its presidency, divided over the war. Amidst all of the turmoil and civic unrest, divided over the best way to protect our country and over whether it should be respected for its power or its ideals. John came back from the war and declared this is a false choice. America owed it to itself to embrace both strengths and ideals in decades of congressional service, ultimately as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John was an exponent of an America strong enough to its purpose. 

   But John believed also in a compassionate America, guided by core principles for which American foreign policy must always stand. “With liberty and justice for all” is not an empty sentiment he argued, it is the foundation of our national consciousness. To John, American advantages had universal applicability. I do not believe he said that there’s an errant exception any more than there is a black exception or an Asian or Latin exception. He warned against temptation of withdrawal from the world. In this manner John McCain ‘s name became synonymous with an America that reached out to oblige the powerful to be loyal and give hope to the oppressed.

   John lines of all these battles for decency and freedom. He was an engaged warrior fighting for his causes with a brilliance, with courage, and with humility. John was all about hope. In a commencement speech at Ohio’s Wesleyan University John summed up the essence of his engagement of a lifetime. “No one of us, if they have character, leaves behind a wasted life.” Like most people of my age I feel a longing for what is lost and cannot be restored. If the happy and casual beauty of youth prove ephemeral, something better can endure and endure until our last moment on Earth and that is the moment in our lives when we sacrifice for something greater than ourselves. Heroes inspire us by the matter of factness of their sacrifice and the elevation of the root vision. 

   The world will be lonelier without John McCain, his faith in America and his instinctive sense of moral duty. None of us will ever forget how even in his parting John has bestowed on us a much needed moment of unity and renewed faith in the possibilities of America. Henceforth, the country’s honor is ours to sustain.

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New State Fair Food Facts List For Diabetics

2 Sep

     As a father of two daughters with Type 1 diabetes I know first hand the minefield that fairs and festivals are for eating and bolusing for insulin coverage.  

     Get it right, and it’s a wonderfully enjoyable day.  Get it wrong, and the entire family pays a price. But at best, getting it right is a guessing game.  Those nutritional food apps we carry on our smart phones cover commercially made food products, but not always the treats from the mini-donut stand at your state fair.

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Health Partners dietitian Susan Marschke talking about the Cajun peel and eat shrimp as a zero-carb healthy food option at the Minnesota State Fair.

     Several years ago the dietitians at the International Diabetes Center in Minnesota published a Fair Food Facts list of all of the popular items at our Great Minnesota Get Together.  I produced a television story and a corresponding blog article about the list and to this day it is one of the most popular stories I’ve done.  But with constantly changing food items, the IDC team of dietitians decided to revisit and update their list.

   You’ll find the downloadable version at the top of this post.  

     “You look everywhere at the Fair and there’s somebody walking and eating food,” said Susan Marschke, a Registered Dietitian with Health Partners.

     “The one that surprises me is just anything that’s breaded and fried, like those fired Oreos or Twinkies, it’s already something that’s already really rich,” said Marschke.  

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Figure 1

     Perhaps not all too surprising is those deep fried Oreo cookies are among the most popular novelty food items at the Minnesota State Fair.  The dietitians discovered they are also among the worst items on their new list. (Figure 1)   A serving of five cookies (because no one can eat just one) comes in at 108 carb and 891 calories. That’s a nutritional disaster for anyone watching carb intake, not to mention their calories. 

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Figure 2

     Equally as disastrous are the Sweet Martha’s chocolate chip cookies.  Yes, they’re the most delicious food item at the State Fair, and it doesn’t help that one can buy them in an overflowing pail.  But just three of these small treats are 42 carb and 270 calories. (Figure 2)  By the time you add that to other snacks at the fair, that’s a lot of extra insulin to cover the carbs, and if you misjudge the dosage or bolus, that person is going to feel pretty sick in no time.  

     “So I think one of the first things to think about when you plan a trip to Fair for anyone is really, is to pick and choose the things you really like and are really special and eat a little bit of that and share some of it,” said Marschke.

     It’s pretty sound advice.

     No one, especially parents, are trying to take the fun out of going to the fair.  But finding the right foods and the right insulin coverage can make all the difference in having a great day, or a miserable day.

     Hopefully this new Fair Foods Facts guide can help.  Have fun!

Wisdom Lives Here — a Tribute to Advertising Scholar Dr. John Eighmey

24 Sep

John Eighmey pix 3

My grad school advisor and main professor from the University Minnesota, Dr. John Eighmey, has just retired.  As the Mithum Chair of Advertising at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, John started and nurtured the professional masters program in strategic communication.  The following is the speech I was asked to give on behalf of the grad school alumni at John’s retirement celebration.

*     *    *

     There’s room on the second floor of Murphy Hall with a name attached to it.  It’s room 211.  And the name on the door is John Eighmey.

      On one of my last trips through Murphy in the spring I took a picture of the name on the door and instagrammed it with a simple caption:  “Wisdom lives here.” John Eighmey's Door

      A lot of “like” buttons were hit that day.  John, one of your former students commented with the words, “Good Turf.”

      To know John is to know his love for great metaphors.  This one worked.

      You created the turf where wisdom grows and lives are transformed.   And when you stood on the turf of the classroom there was no one better.   You often talked about “gift-like objects.”  And we laughed.  But we got it.  We got it because you were and are that gift-like object to us.

     You’ve performed so many roles in your professional career.  Scholar.  Advertiser.  Regulator.  Researcher.  Everyone in this room would strongly argue you saved your best role for last:  Teacher.

      We’ve all had teachers that made a difference.  That someone who held the magic keys to unlock the passions and excitement we didn’t know we had.  You taught us that insights were nothing more than truths hidden in plain sight.   And for most us as students, you made us see the insights in ourselves that no one else knew was there.  You held the keys and unlocked the locks.

     And what you taught us we can still recite in perfect memory.

     There’s Eighmey’s Law: In order for an advertisement to be effective it must get noticed.  And in order for it to get noticed, it must be different.

Myself and Dr. John Eighmey at his retirement celebration

Myself and Dr. John Eighmey at his retirement celebration

     John applied the same law to the formation of the master’s program in strategic communication.  He made it different.  He designed it as a cohort model.  I like to call it an agency model.  Because each one of  us in the cohort came from a different professional discipline where we served each other, taught each other, supported each other.  Failure was not an option.  I defy you to find any online program to meet the same rigor.

     For all the Hallmark cards you helped send, for all of the long distance phone calls you helped connect, for all of corporate profits you helped protect, for all of the consumer insights you helped reveal we know that your greatest work is in this room.

     John, you didn’t just teach, you transformed lives, built careers.

     You fearlessly taught us that, “When it doubt, rocket out.”

     Wisdom lives here.   And because of it, we’re all walking on good turf tonight.

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Note: John is now retired, but still active in advertising analysis and criticism.  Follow his blog at the Psychology of Advertising.

“The Heart Can Never Mess You Up” — Speech Lessons From a Once Homeless Marine

4 Jun

      On paper, it was no contest.  The speakers list contained a short agenda of polished politicians and accomplished CEOs.  And then there was Jerry Readmond.

      “I have but one wish right now, that my anti-depression pill would kick in,” said Readmond.

      Those were his first words.

Former homeless veteran Jerry Readmond standing outside the historic Fort Snelling horse stables that will be converted into affordable housing for homeless veterans.  (Photo by Rod Wermager)

Former homeless veteran Jerry Readmond standing outside the historic Fort Snelling horse stables that will be converted into affordable housing for homeless veterans. (Photo by Rod Wermager)

       Hardly the opening line of a master orator.  And therein lies its simple genius—honesty.

       Jerry Readmond is a former Vietnam War Marine who long ago stopped carrying a rifle and instead carried a burden.  What the war didn’t break, inner demons did.  He spent time walking and living on the streets of Minneapolis, another member of our national embarrassment called the homeless veterans club. 

       If not for the Marine Corps instilling in him a life-long sense of pride and adaptability, Readmond admits he might not have survived. 

      That’s exactly why Readmond was added to the speakers list at the recent ground breaking for 58 new affordable apartments for homeless veterans at Fort Snelling.  The fact that he’s a Marine gives him respect.  His one-time homelessness gives him standing.  Aristotle called it ethos, or credibility.  But the pathos, or emotion was about to come from the soul.

      “I don’t read from notes, because the heart can really never mess you up.” Readmond said.

      He didn’t need notes. All he needed was a narrative, and his heart gave him one.  Here are some of the excerpts:

      “I asked Senator Hubert Humphrey one time, ‘Where does it start?’ And he shook my hand.  And having been here today and witnessing this, it hit me.  After all these years, it starts with a handshake.  There have been many, many, many, many hands shook here.

      “We can build all the buildings we want for our veterans, but I hope when we leave here you will think of this one word:  Affordable.  I’m in a place right now, I have my social security and I have my compensation from the V.A., the first and the fifteenth.  My rent is going to be over a thousand dollars a month and I was homeless.  I just want to be not a perfect example, but I like to be an example because I got my housing through HUD VASH [Housing & Urban Development – Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing].  That’s why I’m so passionate about this.  It takes the honor and the courage and the strength of a warrior to ask for help, that’s why we have a hard time getting them in the door. 

Jerry Readmond walking through the building that will be converted into affordable housing.  (Photo from Rod Wermager)

Jerry Readmond walking through the building that will be converted into affordable housing. (Photo by Rod Wermager)

      “That’s what we’re all doing here.  Martin Luther King, ‘I had a dream.’ And everybody that’s going to fill these halls and walk the grounds will able to say instead of living down by the river or under a bridge… every winter I just get scared.  Really, really, really scared. How many are they going to find under a bridge or down by a river, or in the bush, dead because they froze to death. 

     “Now I know when Martin Luther King said, ‘I have a dream.’  And, for me it is my dream would be that we can fill as many of these buildings here as possible with affordable housing. That we can build affordable housing all over.  When President Obama was first elected he said that he wanted to eliminate veteran homelessness.  And I thought to myself one word and it was short: right.  But by golly, it’s happening. 

      “But it was the handshake.  God bless our veterans and God bless the United States of America.”

      Pity any speaker who has to come next.  In this case, it was Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Al Franken.

     “Don’t anyone ever let me follow Jerry again,” said Franken.

Jerry Readmond and U.S. Senator Al Franken.  (Photo by Rod Wermager)

Jerry Readmond and U.S. Senator Al Franken. (Photo by Rod Wermager)

     Readmond’s were the only words anyone remembered.  Readmond aimed for the heart, everyone else aimed for the talking points.

     The lessons for speech givers and communicators alike are profound.  Powerful persuasion comes in the emotional metaphors delivered by people who have credibility.  In this case, it came from a disheveled man wearing a USMC t-shirt.

“I Lost My Best Friend Too.” A Speech Lesson From an Unlikely Source—Gov. Mark Dayton

25 May

 

    Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton put down the script this week.  The words that escaped the bondage of talking points prove the power of discourse that comes not from a page, but from one’s soul.

      On the political stage, even the corporate stage where every word spoken is weighed and measured, parsed and dissected, the governor displayed a moment of rhetorical brilliance—a teaching moment for leaders of all stripes. 

Peter Hobart Elementary School 4th graders Mohammed Fofana and Haysem Sani.  Both boys were killed in a land slide at Lilydale Regional Park in St. Paul, MN on May 23rd, 2013.

Peter Hobart Elementary School 4th graders Mohammed Fofana and Haysem Sani. Both boys were killed in a land slide at Lilydale Regional Park in St. Paul, MN on May 22nd, 2013.

      This was no ordinary audience.  No ordinary setting.   The gilded comforts of the governor’s capitol conference room were gone.   The clicking keyboards of reporters and the silent streaming of Tweets for a headline snacking world living in the moment were all as devoid as the hundreds of eyes staring back at him.

      Those eyes belonged to the classmates of two young boys who just lost their lives.  Mohammed Fofana and Haysem Sani were fourth graders at Peter Hobart Elementary School in St. Louis Park.  Their simple field trip to Lilydale Regional Park in search of fossils ended with a rock slide.  The tragedy didn’t just suffocate two fourth grade boys, if left their entire school gasping for answers. 

       The governor didn’t have any. 

Gov. Mark Dayton talking to students at Peter Hobart Elementary School in St. Louis Park, MN on May 24th, 2013

Gov. Mark Dayton talking to students at Peter Hobart Elementary School in St. Louis Park, MN on May 24th, 2013

       Therein lies part of the simplistic strength of a message that was so powerful.  Before an entire school sitting cross-legged on the playground, the governor, like the school teacher he once was, bent down to talk to some of the kids at eye level.  Then getting up to the podium he did something nearly every executive of his stature never does—he stepped away.   Looking directly at the children he said these words:

       “At a terrible time like this, there’s nothing I can say.  There are no words that can make you feel better.  I know that because I lost my very best friend in an accident not unlike the one that took Mohammed and Haysem away from you.  He was hiking in a canyon in California and a rock slide came tumbling down.  It was raining a couple of days before and he was killed.

        I remember the horror I felt, I remember the shock, the disbelief.  And I remember greeting his wife and his daughter who is my God daughter, who was eleven years old.  And I said why, you know, why?  Why did this happen?  Why did not just a bad thing happen to a good person, but why did a terrible thing happen to a terrific person?  And in your school a terrible thing happened to a few young boys and two more who were injured.  And we pray for their recovery.”          – Mark Dayton

     For exactly three minutes and ten seconds Mark Dayton wasn’t a chief executive, he was a chief grandfather.   His own story of personal loss transcended the moment for those children and their parents.  Like a warm blanket, he covered their frailties by exposing his own.    He didn’t have an answer.  But he had a connection.  He had a narrative.

     What makes this moment especially remarkable is that Dayton, like many executives, is a leader who often struggles to find the right words.  Lofty oratory is not among his chief gifts.  But his brief moment with those Peter Hobart students this week was a masterful example of the power of speech when one searches for a connection and a story to tell. 

     The teaching moment for communicators and leaders alike is the essential need to always consider one’s audience.   In this case they didn’t need words on a page; they needed words from the heart.   Dayton put down the script and let his soul fly free.   

      Speech class is dismissed.

90,000 Stars — Reflections on a Fallen Marine.

1 Dec

      

             The tears that dropped like rain on a Minnesota prairie didn’t come from the cool air blowing on tired eyes.  They came from the heart.  Many more came from the soul.

             “Tim, I’ve never seen anything like this,” said the prideful farmer looking across the prairie from the base of St. Patrick of Cedar Lake Catholic Church. 

St. Patrick of Cedar Lake Catholic Church.  The final resting place of Lance Cpl Dale Means.

St. Patrick of Cedar Lake Catholic Church. The final resting place of Lance Cpl Dale Means.

               “I can’t tell you how proud I am of this town.”  He didn’t have to say anymore.  The tears rolling off his cheeks filled the empty space where words disappear with the emotion of what only the eyes can see, what one’s soul can feel.                

             In this part of Scott County all roads lead to St. Patrick’s.  But on this day people only needed one, the one where 1,800 American flags pointed the way.

             When word spread days earlier that a certain son was coming home, it was hardly the celebration anyone wanted.  Dale Means, was the kind of man a small town takes pride in.  He was a son, a husband, and a United States Marine.  On November 18th, what pride couldn’t promise a road side bomb took away.  What Minnesota gave, Afghanistan claimed. 

Marine Lance Cpl. Dale Means.

Marine Lance Cpl. Dale Means.

             Tragically, no news travels faster than that of a fallen service member.  When Larry Eckhardt heard, he knew what he had to do.  He packed up his trailer full of 2,000 American flags and set out from his home in Little York, Illinois.

             “Well, I went to a soldiers funeral and there was probably pretty close to about two-thousand people there and only about 50 to a hundred flags,” Eckhardt said.  “I didn’t think that was right.”

             More than 400 miles later Eckhardt pulled into New Prague with a full trailer, a near empty gas tank, and a plea for help.  Bonnie Valek was among those who heard the call.    

Larry "The Flagman" Eckhardt

Larry “The Flagman” Eckhardt

             “Yesterday they had on the radio station, if they could get fifty volunteers, and I volunteered and they had well over a hundred on the snap of a finger,” Valek said.             

            In a little more than an hour, this community known for planting crops was planting flags.  By the time they were done, the sons and daughters of New Prague with the help of Larry the Flagman built a tri-colored wall of patriotism that stood 1,800 strong.  The flags didn’t just bring volunteers, they brought pride.  Pride brought everyone else.

             Among the people lining Main Street was a man in a leather jacket with a face sculpted by the cold fall wind.  Upon recognizing a familiar face from television he reached out his hand with a tight grip and said, “Thank you, Tim.  I’m so glad you’re here, people need to see this.”  He introduced himself only as Scotty, but like so many here the only name that mattered was that of the Marine they claimed as their own.

             “It’s amazing,” he said.  “When I heard about the funeral procession I had to come out.  At first I was one.  Then five minutes later I was ten.  Then I was 50.  Then 100.”    He paused and looked up and down the street.  “Now, I must be a thousand.”

             As the hearse carrying Lance Corporal Means’ body slowly crept past the gauntlet of people, pride, and flags, there was hardly a dry eye.  Jen Ophus was among those fighting off the tears.  

Flags lining the funeral procession route for Lance Cpl. Dale Means to St. Patrick of Cedar Lake Catholic Church.

Flags lining the funeral procession route for Lance Cpl. Dale Means to St. Patrick of Cedar Lake Catholic Church.

             “I think it’s… really impressive,” Ophus said.  “I think it’s something that we should all do and show our respect.  I don’t think it’s seen enough.”

             Further down the street, Ron Dols called it an awakening experience.  “Unfortunately this country doesn’t show its patriotism enough.  And I think this is a good example of it.”

             Lance Corporal Means may have given his life along a lonely trail a half a world away, but at this critical moment he and his family were hardly alone.  His last trip to the church on the hill would be protected by 23,000 stripes and 90,000 stars.  Larry Eckhardt made sure of it.

             “I call it his last gift to the community,”  Eckhardt said.  “Because, it does bring the community together and as long as they remember the flags, they’re going to remember him.”

 *            *            *

          Lance Corporal Mean’s funeral was #97 for Larry Eckhardt and his flags.  He was leaving the next day to drive his trailer to Iowa for the funeral of another fallen soldier.  To learn more about Larry Eckhardt and his flags, you can follow him on Facebook

Flags along Main Street in downtown New Prague, Minnesota for the funeral procession of Marine Lance Cpl. Dale Means on November 28, 2012.

Flags along Main Street in downtown New Prague, Minnesota for the funeral procession of Marine Lance Cpl. Dale Means on November 28, 2012.

Six Words… My Family’s Mission to Conquer Diabetes

20 Nov

                I’m very grateful and humbled to have just been honored with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Award for Public Awareness at the JDRF MinnDakotas Gala in Minneapolis.  It is the dream and prayers of my wife Susan and our daughters to find a cure for Type-1 diabetes.  Through the generosity of Minnesotans we raised more than $500,000 to fund the research to achieve that goal.  With the help of Scott Leech at BrandSpeak, this is the story of our journey with diabetes in addition to the transcript of my acceptance speech challenging all of us to help families everywhere write their own ending to this disease.

Six Words

            Susan and I are among the luckiest parents in the world.   When you have two daughters who light up your life and fearlessly step before you to testify to their own struggles with type-1 diabetes, it makes us proud and very humble.

            It’s only appropriate that you have a chance to meet them tonight, because they are the reason why Susan I are here.  They are the arc of our storyline, the inspiration for the narrative of our lives.   

Maddy & Emme Blotz presenting their father with the JDRF Award for Public Awareness at the Depot in Minneapolis, October 6, 2012.

            But the story of why we are here tonight did not begin with a diagnosis.  It’s actually a bed-time story.  It’s a bed-time story that began with a hard day about a year after that first diagnosis in 2001.   It was a typical day of chasing Maddy around the house with a needle to give her another insulin injection.  As I put her to bed and bent over to kiss her goodnight, she looked up with tear-filled eyes and said, “Daddy, I don’t want diabetes anymore.”

            Six words.

            To a parent, they are the most powerful six words you will hear.  They were more than just a child’s plea.  They were a calling.  A chorus.  A commandment.    No longer as parents would we be allowed to simply sit back and just manage diabetes.  We had to do something about it.

            In every respect I’m no different than you.  We want a cure.  My wife wants a cure.  I’m getting the recognition tonight, but Susan is the rock star.  She’s the one who’s spent countless nights cuddling a child, measuring keytones and waiting for blood sugars to drop.  She’s the one taking the calls from the school nurse.  She’s the one crying when the A1-C results come back.  She is the one who loves her daughters so much that she’d do anything for a cure.   Together, we have tried to use the public platform for which I have access, to educate and advocate for a cure.  

            All of us want to do something about it otherwise you wouldn’t be here tonight.  In the audience we have mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors.  But also among us tonight we have doctors and researchers.  God gave them the ability heal, gave them the ability to ask tough questions, hypothesize the answers and prove them.   The rest of us are here because we have the ability to help them. 

            So, this is our story.  It is a story we share together.  In this narrative we all have a beginning whether that beginning was a father who has diabetes, a brother, a son, a daughter, a friend, or perhaps yourself.   Events like tonight are the middle of the story.  We all have them.  Our own narratives lead us down different walks of life and different paths with diabetes.  But we’re all trying to write the same ending.

            Won’t you help us?

            Six words.

            This is a bed-time story we need to put to bed.  Please join us.  Help us rewrite the title of this story from “I don’t want diabetes anymore,” to “I don’t have diabetes anymore.”

            Thank you for being with us tonight and blessings to you all.

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