My phone rang about two weeks ago. "Hello", I said. "Hey, young man", said the voice on the other end. "I need you to help me with something." There was no "Hello", no "Are you busy?", no "Is this a good time?". The caller just went straight into it, telling me what he wanted me to do.
Normally, I don't respond well to this type of ask. But, Tony was the one asking.
Tony Whitehurst didn't have to say hello or ask if I was busy. All he had to do was start talking. I listened because he had earned that type of respect from me and lots of other folks.
Tony never sought the limelight or needed applause. All he cared about was improving the plight of the people around him. Tony's singular focus was doing the work and he had no trouble asking you to put your shoulder to the wheel, too.
I don't believe Tony ever had a bad day. He was so focused on helping people and got so much joy from seeing people succeed that the type circumstances that weigh most of us down never got to him. Tony pressed toward the goal for the prize of the upward call. He countered anything we would consider bad in his life by performing a great good. When he lost his football scholarship, thus his opportunity to be a college athlete, Tony became a college scholar. When his brother's son lost his life tragically on a night out in Washington, D.C., Tony went a personal mission to show the boys in his community a better way. When he was diagnosed with cancer, Tony started sending weekly devotionals to people he knew were struggling with challenges of their own.
Tony Whitehurst was good man. Not a saint, but a man who accepted the consequences of decisions he made and shouldered the responsibilities of his life without complaint. By living his life this way, Tony not only set an example for those around him; he earned their unwavering respect.
I ended my last conversation with Tony this way, I said, "I wouldn't do this for anybody else, but since it's you asking, I likely will. Give me the weekend to think about it, then call me on Monday so we can go to lunch." "Sounds like a plan," he said.
My next phone call wasn't with Tony; it was about him. A mutual friend called to say Tony just had a heart attack and was being rushed to the hospital. Not much later, he said Tony was headed to Heaven.
Years ago, when I said I didn't have time to help him with something, Tony asked if I could spare five minutes for the cause. I said yes, but wondered aloud what good five minutes would do. Tony said, "Never apologize for only having five minutes to give someone. They may only need one minute." I was changed in an instant by those words of wisdom.
And today, I am glad that God decided to give Tony to us for five minutes. We all would have loved to have more, but many of us have certainly benefited from just one minute with him.
Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.