Mark Merrill told an audience of about 300 people Tuesday that their greatest legacy will be the love they leave behind. "That is the legacy that will endure," he said.
The event at the St. Luke Ministry Center in Columbus was a fundraiser luncheon for Right From the Start, a marriage and family initiative of the Pastoral Institute with the mission of lowering the divorce rate, lowering the rate of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and increasing the involvement of fathers in the lives of their children.
Merrill is a former attorney from Florida who is the founder and president of Family First, a national non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening the family.
Right From the start has an All Pro Dad program based on a program started by Merrill and former National Football League Coach Tony Dungy that helps men to become better fathers.
Merrill told those gathered that he sends daily text messages to his five children giving them encouragement with sentiments such as "I love you no matter what."
"We have to let children know that we love them simply for who they are and not what they do," he said.
He said that people are meant to love all others and that love is "an action, not a transaction."
"Love is about giving of ourselves selflessly," he said.
Merrill said people must love people who at times deserve it the least. "We must love the unlovable," he said.
He said parents must know their values and pass those along to their children so they have a strong foundation.
He said people should use their story — the pain they have had in their life — to help others.
"Who better to help someone who is going through a divorce than someone who has been through a divorce?" Merrill asked.
Also speaking at the event was Muscogee County School Superintendent David Lewis, who praised the work of Right From the Start in reducing teen pregnancies in the city.
Right From the Start has a program about relationships for sixth graders and ninth graders in the Muscogee County School District.