Written by: Byron Edgington
Date: August 4, 2015
Barbara Sokol died three years ago, but her legacy lives on. Barbara lived her life as a connector, a woman who was always looking for ways to put people together, just to see what would happen. And when Barbara matched people up, good things always happened. She was my mentor for how to reinvent my life after age fifty, and she never even knew it.
Here’s how Barbara made things happen. My wife and I had known her for only a matter of months when we attended our first annual gala for the Human Rights Campaign, the HRC. Prior to the evening’s dinner and the entertainment phase, Barbara milled around the silent auction area of the downtown Hyatt with us, wine glass in hand, schmoozing and chatting. Mariah and I watched her work the room, marveling at her ease with people and learning from her the finer points of social interaction.
I saw Barbara scurry across the room, moving toward then Governor Ted Strickland. She looked back at Mariah and me, and then looked at Ted, then back at us. I heard the exchange from fifteen feet away. Barbara snagged Ted’s coat sleeve and jerked him toward us, almost spilling his drink. Her insistent voice echoed across the room: “Ted, get over here, you have to meet these people!” She dragged the governor to us and made introductions. I was quite certain that Ted Strickland had no earthly idea who we were, or why he ‘had to meet us,’ but that was Barbara Sokol.
Flash forward several years, and the blanks begin to fill in. Barbara had been gone nearly three years when Mariah and I held a fundraiser for a scholarship we created in her name at Ohio State. The fund was aimed at LGBT students at OSU who were majoring in the new discipline of Sexuality Studies. We created the Barbara and Si Sokol Scholarship to help those students pursue this exciting new discipline, and the fundraiser was held to help endow it. Nearly every one of the seventy or so people in that room, (including Ted and Frances Strickland) had a Barbara Sokol story, and many shared them that evening. I told the ‘Ted at HRC’ story to knowing laughter, and noted that, once again, Barbara Sokol was working her magic, bringing people together to make things happen.
This is one of the truly gratifying luxuries of being retired and/or unretired. We have the capacity, insight, ability and even the necessity to connect people. I’ve seen the power of that effort in my own life recently. Some years ago I received a phone call from a fellow associated with Transport Canada, the equivalent of our Department of Transportation. He’d found my name after a search of commercial pilots who were published authors. He was looking for a speaker for the Transport Canada convention, and wanted me to be keynote. I was unable to accommodate him, referring him instead to a friend who was a pilot, fellow Vietnam vet, author colleague, and public speaker. Randy lived a lot closer to the convention site than I did as well. I told the fellow to call him. He did, and Randy gave the Transport Canada crowd a rousing speech. It turned out to be an event that launched Randy’s post-aviation speaking career.
Randy recently contacted me, asking if I’d be interested in extending my aviation career by becoming a flight safety consultant. I jumped at the chance, traveled to Portland Oregon to get trained up and will be traveling the country soon to fulfill annual safety briefing requirements for flight operations. If that’s payback for listening to Barbara, and learning from her about the value of connecting people, I understand it fully. Connecting people to make things happen is one of life’s most gratifying and rewarding acts. It is indeed better to give than to receive, and after age fifty, with the pressure to avoid assisting our competition well behind us, it’s something we’re in a unique position to do.
After reading Chris Farrell’s book, ‘Unretirement,’ I was struck by the resources he mentioned in his bibliography, specifically their collaborative aspect. I’ve listed a few of the links here, the sites that come in handy when we’re looking for ways to connect people. It’s obvious that the impulse to help others doesn’t fade away post-retirement but somehow gets stronger.
One of the more interesting sites is encore.org. I’ve taken the liberty to cut and paste Encore’s mission statement here:
“We are a movement of millions of people who are using our passions, skills and decades of experience to make a difference in our communities and the world.”
There are numerous resources out there, of course, but I thought Encore’s says it best, especially the operative words ‘decades of experience.’ Here are a few other links that jumped off the page at me, places to mouse around to when looking for ways to connect people:
I can personally vouch for the last item the Program 60 option at Ohio State. I’ve taken courses through this wonderful program, and it has allowed me to connect with and help people in numerous ways. Indeed, the Program 60 course I took on the History of the Vietnam War filled in many blanks for me, giving me extra ammunition, so to speak, when I addressed students at a local high school as an eyewitness to war. That’s the kind of connection that’s always useful, important and fun.
As for helpful hints on other ways to use our perspectives, knowledge and wisdom to connect people, volunteer work is always gratifying, especially after the pressure to make money dissipates. Here’s another list of local agencies that are always looking for helping hands, and wise insights:
These resources are my own list and preferences, of course. The point is that there are numerous venues and organizations where putting people together is important and fulfilling, and where we may find that our age and outlook are not just needed; they’re vital. Making things happen for people is the best part of life. Barbara Sokol knew that, and her life reflected it. I hope I learned from her well enough to make a difference to other people, but I’m a work in progress.
One way I have tried to connect people is through the scholarship that Mariah and I created. The Barbara and Si Sokol Scholarship in Sexuality Studies has taken off at OSU, giving a group of wonderful students the chance to pursue their studies and to be who they are.
The night of the fundraiser we were fortunate to have a few of those connected students join us. Winners of the scholarship, they spoke of how the award has affirmed them, and allowed them to stay in school and keep their focus on what they will be and do. The smiling faces you see in the photograph show just one result of our efforts. The truly gratifying part of that picture is what cannot be seen. This is the feeling of making connections for people that help them do the great work they’ve taken on themselves that will change the world. Barbara may have passed away three years ago, but she was in attendance that evening, there’s no doubt in my mind. She had once again connected all of us, and great things happened.