Elizabeth Rice Grossman
Legacy is a seductive word.
It can be a political excuse to erect massive idols to transform generals and revolutionaries into demigods, forward-looking statuary with an arm extended or a raised fist of defiance, immortalized in cities and townships; its shadow cast upon farmlands and the countryside as both a source of euphoria and a darkening of liberty.
But these hollow figures no more symbolize a legacy of goodness than the propaganda their respective stenographers continue to issue about miraculous surpluses of grain and martial victories against fictive enemies at home and abroad.
In fact, legacy requires no posthumous busts, no grand proclamations and no revisionist history. A legacy exists – it perpetuates itself – based on the actions of the man or woman we honor.
A name can encapsulate all the necessary virtues – vision, courage, resolution, charity and healing – that make a legacy real. It sustains itself through deeds that are as distinctive (and distinctively recognizable), today, as they were years before.
I write these words from personal experience, in mourning (for my late husband, Dr. A. Richard Grossman) and in high spirits, because I am a witness to how one man’s leadership has bequeathed a legacy that requires no exaggeration or cosmetic enhancement.
As a Board Member of the Dr. Richard Grossman Community Foundation, there is clarity of purpose and transparency of results because of ideals that bear the artistry of a surgeon’s touch.
The legacy is alive among the men and women, and the boys and girls, who are burn survivors, not victims: Individuals empowered by the aid of our A. Richard Grossman College Scholarship Fund; patients saved by The Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital; and youth inspired by the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Greater Conejo Valley.
The unifying force of these organizations is not about a common namesake, a departed benefactor whose portrait has a golden picture light, which has a halo effect among passersby and friends of my late husband.
Rather, the legacy of Dr. Grossman originates from his hands: Those hands were warm to touch, and a touch of emotional warmth to seriously injured children, troubled souls and anxious colleagues; they were the hands that restored lives, and they were the hands that made any instrument – including an ordinary ballpoint pen – the means to save people.
His signature, with its cursive elegance and self-confident strokes, is also a stamp of approval. It is the symbolic gesture on every award and financial contribution that makes our Foundation thrive.
Indeed, some signatures are so powerful they are a story unto themselves. One’s proverbial John Hancock – the Founding Father’s very own John Hancock is an enlarged, iconic example of calligraphic writing – is a statement of will and unambiguous intent. It conveys, in eleven letters, what Patrick Henry expresses in seven words: “Give me liberty, or give me death!”
That is the summation of a great legacy.
The Message to Executives: Act on Your Beliefs
The takeaway theme to executives who want to create their own legacies is simple: Act on your beliefs.
Put aside books about “business wisdom,” and close the pages detailing the purported secrets of Bill Gates’s genius and Steve Jobs’s success.
Read about these men because their stories are exciting, not because there is a concealed recipe for international fame and infinite riches. Recipes are for the kitchen, not the boardroom.
So, if you want to seize your moment of greatness and inspire generations to come, then you must actualize your ideals. In a word: Lead!
That means you must take risks. You must, to invoke the contemporaries of Hancock and Henry, risk your “blood, treasure and sacred honor.”
Does this, therefore, mean you must literally endanger yourself to create a legacy? The answer is “no,” but courage has many faces that center around the same question: What beliefs would you risk everything to protect?
My husband risked his livelihood – he put his life and limb at risk – because of an unalterable belief: That the least among us deserve the best care from the most blessed among us.
Your identity is in your beliefs, and your legacy is in your actions.
Everything else is empty rhetoric.