Dear Grandpa 2024

robert hoffer

Dear Grandpa, 

I recently read a critically acclaimed biography about Martin Luther King Jr. (King: A Life) that touched on every aspect of his life. So many elements of King’s life stood out to me: his courage, his tenacity, his sense of calling, his willingness to suffer, and much, much more. His imperfections also stood out to me. Quite honestly, I had not considered them before. The version of MLK I had in my head was simply inaccurate. 

As I have read my Bible this year and reflected on my life, being human has been a primary theme. People are people, a simple lesson I’m sure you’d remind me of. Your leadership saw people for who they were, not for some image of them that was not real. You also recognized that people would have both good and bad moments. To that end, our critical eye is best turned inwardly as Jesus instructed us. 

The same can also be said for companies. The leader’s goal is to steer companies past these imperfections, persevere, and improve day after day despite them. And as I have walked the production floor this year, I’ve reflected on my memories of you. How much of them are still accurate, and what am I missing as the years have passed?  

Your tenacity is one memory I’m confident is accurate. I used to think that great leaders made big strategic moves. I’ve realized that big strategic moves are born from small, intentional disciplines. It is the small things that few notice that make all the difference. While I imagine you had momentary lapses in tenacity, your life’s work is evidence of consistency. It is something I aspire to in all aspects of my own life. 

Some call these small disciplines fundamentals. Looking back, it seems to me that you were tenacious about certain fundamentals within our business: 

  • Safety wasn’t just a buzzword. It was paramount. 
  • Cleanliness meant things were in order and clean long before 5S became commonplace. 
  • Each press was measured, each standard challenged, long before any ERP system was in place.
  • Visiting customers and working to improve their lives was a daily practice and not part of some one-off initiative. 
  • Our team members were treated as part of our family before the value was established and put on the walls.

Our longest-tenured employee is a Black woman who began work over fifty years ago. I don’t know if that was intentional. But I know she is family…and that didn’t happen by accident. It was something you built, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, until the end. 

The end isn’t something people want to think about, but it is something I am thinking about. No, I don’t have any feelings of an early death like President Lincoln or Dr. King did. But, it is the reality of being human. 

Your day came, and my day will too. 

This is a sobering reality to me. 

The morning I returned to work in 2024, I started my day by signing eight sympathy cards. Eight of our team members’ families experienced the worst loss over a 10-day break. It was devastating. I mourned for them and with them. 

And looking back, I remember being upset one night when Dad and I went to visit you at home. I can’t remember how old I was; I only remember asking Grandma where you were. 

“The funeral home,” she said. 

Grandpa’s always at the funeral home, I replied. 

“Yes, he goes often,” she said. 

It’s no wonder your wake went on for hours, and people lined up outside in the cold. 

I want to be that kind of leader as well. 

Thinking of the old house and Grandma brought me to one last realization: My life’s work begins with my marriage to Sarah and then extends to my kids. That’s the most important work, as you would surely remind me. I must remain tenacious there. 

But it doesn’t stop there. My favorite thing to do this year — the thing that has helped me in more ways than I can adequately describe —  is putting on my hairnet, donning my safety glasses, and going to our floor to look for something good. Yes, challenges abound, as they always do with humans, but as you taught us, so does the good. It is there if we seek it. 

Dr. King saw it when it looked impossible; therefore, we, too, can see it when it is cloudy, dark, and cold. What we face pales in comparison to what Dr. King faced. 

What is it that I am looking for? Well, the boldest claim I have ever made in this blog. 

One day, this will all be made right. There will be no more sympathy cards, cloudy days, or sleepless nights. There will be no more racism. In fact, there will no longer be any need to be tenacious.  

We will all finally be able to rest. 

My hope is in Jesus and the coming of his kingdom. This world’s trouble is more than I can handle, so I hope in Him. 

Until then, I promise to work with tenacity. 

One day at a time. 

This is the life you lived. 

I still miss you.