We recently asked readers to submit articles on their childhood heroes. Below is the second place submission, written by Michael Murrah.
He was quiet strength. He never wasted time with noisy displays – he didn’t have to. His way was the subtle effectiveness of moral authority, the way of a hero. As a child, I could occasionally witness this man’s selfless sacrifice and would always marvel at his genius for making those around him better people.
Many years ago, he owned a small business in St. Louis. One day, he discovered that one of his three employees was pilfering cash from the register. The amount was just over a $100 total, which in those days was a small fortune. This so offended his moral sensibilities and code of loyalty that he grabbed the cheater by the arm and ushered him into the back alley for a “chat.” Once there, the desperate man began to sob while apologizing for his miserably disloyal thievery. He proceeded to explain that his wife was ill and his indiscretion had been motivated by her need.
My hero explained to the thief that he would never be able to trust him again and thus, he would have to leave immediately. At the front door, my hero placed an envelope containing $200 inside his former employee’s coat pocket and said, “This is for your wife and it’s hers to keep, under one condition – that I never see your face again.” And that condition was met.
My hero was the son of immigrants who had arrived in St. Louis, Mo. at the start of the 20th Century. Survival at this time was really a family affair, so as a small boy he would follow the nightly boxcars filled with coal, which ran down the street paralleling the river. This is the same street that is now the eastern edge of the Gateway Arch complex. This was a tough job for a kid, especially in winter, but he always came home with enough coal in his hands and pockets to keep his parents, brothers and sister safe for another night. I believe realities such as these helped shape the man my hero would become.
Due to his responsibilities to his family, his formal education ended in the fourth grade, which is wonderfully ironic since he was clearly one of the brightest men I ever knew. He ran many businesses over the years, even paid for his two younger brothers to attend dental school. He was “street smart” and his common sense was remarkably uncommon.
Heroes like Superman, Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger that we cherish in childhood can fade in importance as our eyes are opened by the ways of the world, but the early lessons these heroes provided us can thankfully remain. As my collection of years greatly increased, so did my respect and admiration for my hero. His moral convictions, loyalty, dedication to duty, sense of humor and his “do the right thing” attitude were lessons taught by the other heroes as well. But in his life you were able to see that he practiced those values. Since his values never stopped at “lip service,” it’s easy to understand how admiration for him could only increase with the passage of time.
I attended his funeral, but there was nothing funereal about it. I have heard people say “funerals are wonderful,” but until that night I never got their meaning. It was a celebration, with decades of remembered joys given verbal life again by the more than 500 attendees. One of his fiercest competitors came up to me and said, “You know, he was one hell of a sweet man.” I had to agree with him. He was my lifelong hero. He was my dad.