Each week we post an article, blog, or short anecdote pertaining to a variety of related topics such as risk management, business acumen, employee benefits, culture compliance, and so on. This week; however, I hope that you will indulge me as we take a step back from our normal postings and instead pay tribute to a friend and colleague.
I met John Zook roughly a decade ago while courting the girl who would become my wife, Jenna. The Zook family were long time neighbors of my soon-to-be in-laws and as is often the case, a consistent part of daily life. John and Katie Zook had two daughters (as did my mother and father in law), lived in the same neighborhood, and had similar beliefs and interests, so it was only common that they would become long-time friends with the family that I am now a part of.
The first time I saw John was not in person, rather in a picture hung inside my in-laws vacation home in which John is playfully sporting a pair of Groucho Marx glasses with a unique smile that served as consistent accessory to John’s jubilant face. That picture was not just a snapshot taken in time to be reflected upon, but an accurate external portrait of a man whose life was spent bringing happiness and joy to others.
For those that knew John, there was never any doubt that he loved you. There may be that someone in this world that John didn’t care for, but if that is truly the case, I doubt anyone could verify it. John loved people, and he shared his love like most would share a handshake or a smile or an occasional embrace.
It was a few years after I’d met John that it was discovered that we both chose to work in our own respective areas of the Employee Benefit industry. We discovered this while we both attending the same seminar on a related topic. You would think that this commonality/similarity within our lives would have been something uncovered earlier on in our friendship, but to be frank, it never came up; not because I wasn’t interested in what John did vocationally, but because time spent with John was so unique and in the moment, that conversations weren’t about work or everyday struggles of life, but simply time of enjoyment for the sole reason of being around each other.
However, once this similar aspect of our lives was discovered, John would make it a point to invite me to lunch on a regular basis to ‘talk shop’, but rarely did our conversations during those engagements ever lead towards work. Instead they were spent on the more important areas of life – family, friends, happiness. John was building a legacy, and I was getting to be part of it. Not to discount the impact to our business, John actually helped us create one of the most powerful initiatives our firm has implemented, but he did so by planting an idea, and allowing it grow as we saw fit…John was helping us create our legacy.
As business leaders, we often struggle with the balance of profits, investments, time, and culture. Managing expenses while trying to be more efficient and create a positive working environment. It’s easy to look back over time and see where we’ve come, all-the-while forgetting the passion that brought us to where we are. John helped me remember those things that are most important in life, and that we as business leaders should focus less on the overall profitability, and more about the legacy. For if we create something that is right for others, a legacy is created, and the profits and successes will most always follow.
I saw John and his family just a few weeks ago at the wedding of a mutual family friend. John was in his normal place of happiness, but with an extra twinkle in his eye, for at this event, not only did he have both of his daughters and their husbands in attendance with he and his wife, but also their first granddaughter and the announcement that another grandchild was on the way. John’s legacy was with him in the flesh, and he was sharing it once again with the world. This particular time with john was also special to me in that I had, for the first time, the opportunity to introduce him to my new daughter, and share with him the beginnings of my legacy.
We received the call yesterday evening that John’s time here on earth had past. His heart, so full of love for others could no longer function at the pace required for a man of John’s passion for life. Our faith teaches us that a life filled with love is a life more abundant, and if that’s the case, no one had a more abundant life than did John Zook.
While attending a recent event with John, he spent time introducing me to various people that I did not know. While making the introduction, he’s say, “I want you to meet Seth – he’s someone you really need to know”. While I don’t necessarily know if that’s the case, the fact that to John I was “somebody” means something to me.
Each night while rocking my new born to sleep, I sing to her the Tony Bennett classic, I’ve Got the World on a String, the crooner goes on to state that he’s got it all because the love he has. Someday when she’s older, I’ll sing her that song and tell her about her Uncle John, and how he had the world on a string because of all the love he had in his heart. His legacy of love will live on because we will live on; and within each of us that knew John, a part of him will always remain. The world will never be the same without John, but for those of us that knew him, the world would never have been so bright had it not been for him.
So the next time you hear an old Tony Bennett song, do me a favor, think of my friend John, and in his memory, share a smile or a warm embrace…share your legacy of love with the world.