Monday, January 12, 2009

The End

In his 47th and last press conference this morning, President Bush was a man on a mission. Today was the official start of his effort to define his presidential legacy for history to judge. I say he did a great job laying the foundation.

When they build his presidential library on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, the 45 minute video of this press conference should be the first thing people see in the amphitheater they build near the entrance. It was truly a defining moment in a presidency that has been dogged by criticism and sagging popularity.

The President vehemently defended his actions after Hurricane Katrina and the September 11th attack. He passionately argued that America's moral stature around the world has not been tarnished. He took pride in the passage of the No Child Left Behind education reform bill and the tax cuts he proposed.

He also took responsibility for what he perceived were his mistakes, like the "Mission Accomplished" banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln, and his "disappointments", like the lack of evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Bush said that he had no regrets, nor did he feel isolated during his time in the White House. But, to me, his shining moment was this last press conference.

His candor, sense of history, and heartfelt respect for Obama himself and of the President-elect's historical accomplishment, was one of the most genuine moments of the Bush presidency, one which was not known for being forthright when pressed for information. The man who set out to change Washington, got caught up in it, and now is glad to be getting out of it in eight days.

I can only think of what could have been had this George Bush led this country instead of the one we had, but like the President said, the historians will have to judge that.

Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, another era is coming to an end. Tony Dungy, the first African-American to coach a team to victory in the Super Bowl, has decided to end his coaching career. One of the most successful coaches in NFL history, Dungy built Tampa Bay into a contender and Indianapolis into a champion. He set the record for consecutive 12-win seasons and had 11 trips to the playoffs in 13 seasons.

More importantly, he created a coaching tree that has produced other African-American head coaches, similar to what Bill Parcells and Bill Walsh has done with their white counterparts. His opponent in the Super Bowl was Chicago's Lovie Smith, who worked under Dungy in Tampa Bay.

Tony Dungy, however, will be remembered as more than just a coach. He was a mentor and a role model to his players and fellow coaches, as well as leaders in other sectors of enterprise with his non-confrontational, calm, and self-effacing leadership style. Dungy would not yell and scream, but you knew when you let him down. He was not known to smile a lot, but you knew when he was pleased.

He was the true definition of a quiet storm, a force you felt more than you heard. Unlike President Bush, he was not term-limited out. Dungy is leaving on his own terms, with less concern about his legacy than the President. He, too, understands though, that it will be up to others to judge his accomplishments and his impact on the game of professional football.

So that begs the question, what will be our legacy? How will people remember us and, more precisely, who will remember us? For us mere mortals, our children being successful, healthy and safe could be ours, as well as how we treated our fellow travelers in this journey we call life.

People have made fun of my friend Roland Burris' mausoleum and how his accomplishments have already been etched in stone. To me, however, his mausoleum is a reminder on a grander scale of what we all will have etched in stone on our grave marker, defining that dash that will be chiseled between our date of birth and our date of death.

Legacies are not just for the famous, for "the end" comes for all of us on this planet. How it is defined will be the job of others. Our job is to give them something to talk about. Our reward will be to hear the words in eternity, "Well done."