Everyone needs a role model, someone to look up to, demonstrating by example how to better live our lives and nobly conduct our affairs. Finding such people is rare because possession of those qualities is scarce. Recognizing the purveyor of such wisdom requires astute observation, as well as some luck, so not to miss the opportunity. You must seek it. It won’t find you if you’re not paying attention.
In my life, that man was Joe Hester. Many have known him as a politician, or a lawyer, or a judge. To his friends and me he was just Joe.
We met on the squash court at the Y in the 70’s, he, an accomplished player and me the upstart beginner. Joe was a fine athlete, a collegiate tennis player at Yale, a solid A level squash player. It took me three years to develop the skills in order to be barely competitive with Joe and another few years to begin winning. I think Joe admired the tenacity of a self-taught, public school upstart chasing, catching, matching and finally surpassing the Ivy League, varsity team, private lesson stalwart. The grace he demonstrated during that year’s long transition was inspiring. Rather than being bitter about his defeat, Joe celebrated my improvement. He saw it as a project he helped to flourish. My advancements gave Joe as much pleasure as if they were his own because indeed they were; we were making each other better by being fierce competitors, pushing each other to advancements impossible to cultivate without mutual adversity.
As our relationship grew beyond the squash court, I came to know Joe’s family, his friends, and his personal life. Joe was uniquely genuine. When he asked how you were, he really wanted to know. If a blank canvas expresses a life and our living provides the tints and brush strokes, Joe’s landscape combined the vividness of bold colors with the quiet subtleties of subdued shadows and a depth of field that commands your attention.
Squash, competition and the adversity of the contest exposes phoniness and character flaws as spatters of thick, black oil onto a vivid, bright white canvas that for better or worse, hangs in plain sight in the gallery of men’s minds, unalterable except by performance, honor and nobility. Joe’s canvas glistens only with colors. Nowhere appears a flaw or an opaque, stretched, errand shadow, only the vividness of a life well lived.
Joe passed away last week. Family and friends celebrated his life while consoling each other with sharing personal stories of how he touched us all. It was one of the greatest honors of my life to know Joe and humbling to be asked to carry him to his final resting place. Joe never said good-bye at the end of a phone call, ironic when judges generally are known for always having the last word. So, as usual, the conversation ends without a good-bye from him, but this time, a final good-bye from me to my friend. Godspeed.