by Jim Troxel
One of my regrets in my life is that I did not spend as much time with my friend, Rodney Wilson, as I would have liked. That’s because the few times we did spend together were some of my most cherished and I wished there had been more.
We had known each other from the late 60’s through the work of the Ecumenical institute – I as a young staff and he as a board member “guardian.” Our paths crossed from time to time for the next 20 years or so and in different places around the world and frankly my memory is a little weak on exactly when and where.
It wasn’t until the late 80’s and early 90’s that I came to know Rodney in a most treasured manner. Again the details are blurry but the location was Belgium. The infrastructure that had held the institute together had just been called out of being in late 1988 and some of us were trying to figure out what would be the global glue that would hold us together into the future. During that short interval the ICA-International held two or three events in Brussels which Rodney and I attended together for at least one, maybe two of them. These occasions were meetings where ICAI was thinking through some thorny issues of re-inventing itself to provide a base of global connectedness.
Rodney and I soon discovered that we shared a similar penchant and that was a disdain for long meetings, which the ICA was known for. We would find it compulsory to take our leave of the momentous deliberations underway and remove ourselves to the community plaza where there was a local tavern that served Belgium’s famous brew, Stella Artois. We would sit outside on the square and enjoy people-watching and discussing the news of the day and other heady topics in the late afternoon before dinner. We would be frequently joined by other comrades in collaborative misery, most notably, Dick Seacord.
The Stellas would be served in large slender coned glasses with its logo prominently displayed. It was Rodney’s duty each day to utter his famous mantra, “The first round’s on me,” to which I can report no one ever objected. His logic, he shared with me, was that people tended to forget who ordered what in later rounds and some poor schmuck would be stuck with the tab. While regrettably true, the real reason for Rodney’s generosity was that since the rest of us were usually cash-strapped staff members, no one could afford any other rounds anyway.
Besides, the flasks of the Stellas lasted …. Well, they lasted a lifetime, to be honest. I cannot tell you one single world problem we resolved, not one replication of a human development project we initiated, not one financial conundrum we untangled, but I can tell you those conversations at dusk were some of the most wonder-filled moments of my life. We just simply talked. A bunch of guys shooting the breeze and wondering what was the meaning of it all. They were more like a tonic than an ale; a chance to commiserate, blow off some steam, and laugh at our attachments to the old order passing away. Invariably, we would discuss why the train system in the US couldn’t be more like that in Europe, a topic Rodney was well-equipped to indulge.
You can’t go to Belgium without making the pilgrimage to Brugge, a town preserved in the Middle Ages half-way to the English Channel. So the body in residence made its trek on the train and Rodney and I discovered that while we both enjoyed Brugge, we each had been there enough to not care too much for staring at the tedious process of lace-making one more time. So, as you can imagine, we found the best people-watching, outdoor-seating tavern we could find, situated ourselves comfortably, and imbibed on the national lager for the duration. It was during this one visit that Rodney took a photo of me which to this day remains one of my all-time favorite portraits.
Time moves on and people go and do the things they feel compelled they must. But for a brief moment of history, two lives overlapped that made all the difference in the world. My feeble attempts to resurrect those moments have been unsuccessful. And my memory of the details is long gone, but the experience has remained intact in my being to this day.
If I were to aggregate all my times, experiences and memories of Rodney and summarize them into one word it would “Loyalty.” Rodney was loyal to his church, the Rotary Club, the EI/ICA, Santa Fe, and, of course, his family and to his friends. If he found someone with whom he enjoyed their particular company, he would do whatever he could to make that person feel welcome, honored and treasured. He would support whatever efforts he himself had established with a personal connection.
Rodney tended to shy away from center stage, feeling more comfortable behind the scenes. He liked that, I think, not because he wasn’t good at being in the limelight. Indeed, when those occasions were thrust upon him, he performed magnificently. Rather, he just enjoyed sharing the spotlight with those whom he genuinely thought disserved it more than he. He never seemed to realize that it was his supportive nature that propelled others around him to greatness. Or, if he did, he never bragged about it. That was not his nature.
You could depend on Rodney. He was there for you and you knew it. And you could rely on his steadfastness as surely as if there was a rock to stand on. He encouraged you to be your best.
Rodney was the consummate team player. Okay, maybe he took off every now and then to join me and others for a local brew. Rodney, though, simply redefined what team he was on for the moment.
We use to having a saying at the institute that went something like, “Always say ‘Yes’.” That meant that whenever a colleague asked for your assistance, your first response was to be always “yes.” Rodney was the personification of that principle.
We had another saying that I’m sure was modeled after Rodney: “Whatever it takes.” He did whatever it took whenever it became necessary.
History is going to miss Rodney’s physical presence in this world. But his spirit lives within me, I know, and will forever. I’m just as sure it lives within countless others he touched around the world. Rodney served as a premier example of service to humankind – not in the abstract, but in the concrete – to specific people, to specific projects, to specific organizations. His care for the world was “grounded” in the particular. He wrote no treatises, he authored no philosophy. He waxed eloquent on only those things that mattered to him in the here and now.
He affirmed life and in his affirmation of life, he affirmed that which gives all beings life, the Ground of all Being. And It, and all who knew him, return the favor.
Thank you, Rodney, for your Presence in my life and in all those you encountered. I hope St. Peter enjoys the First Round!