May 20, 2011

Holtz inspires with his humor, words of wisdom

Lou Holtz delivers the keynote speech at the Spirit of Service Awards dinner on May 11. (Photo by Rich Clark)

Lou Holtz delivers the keynote speech at the Spirit of Service Awards dinner on May 11. (Photo by Rich Clark)

By John Shaughnessy

Lou Holtz offered a bountiful combination of humor, inspiration and stories when he served as the keynote speaker at the Spirit of Service Awards Dinner on May 11 in Indianapolis.

Here are some of the thoughts and stories that the former University of Notre Dame football coach shared during the event which honored four Catholic individuals from the archdiocese for their outstanding volunteer service:

The one question we all need to ask ourselves—“If I didn’t show up, who would miss me and why? If you didn’t go home, would your family miss you? And if they did, why? If you didn’t show up for work on Monday, would anybody miss you?

“We should all aspire to make sure that we live our lives in such a way that if we didn’t show up, somebody would miss us. Not because we’re valuable. Not because we’re talented. But because we add value to other people’s lives.”

Questioning Catholicism—“In seventh grade, I had a nun named Sister Mary Harriet who disliked me and probably with good justification. Because there are certain things about Catholicism that I really didn’t like.

“For example, I don’t like fish, and there was a time

year-round when Catholics couldn’t eat meat on Friday. So every Friday, I’d complain to her, ‘I wish the Apostles had been ranchers rather than fishermen.’ And I always asked her the questions she couldn’t answer: ‘Why did Paul keep writing to the Corinthians when they never wrote him back?’ ”

Showing love—Holtz shared this story about his wife, Beth, who has recovered from a diagnosis of cancer. The couple will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on July 22.

“My wife doesn’t do many interviews because she said one person in the public life is enough. But she gave one interview … and that was about her cancer. I’ll never forget, the question was, ‘What did you learn from having cancer?’ She said, ‘I learned how much my family loved me.’

“We didn’t love her any more because she had cancer. We showed her more. Isn’t it a shame that we had to let somebody have a catastrophe before we say, ‘We love you. We appreciate how special you are.’ ”

Avoid bitterness—“There’s not an individual in this room who doesn’t have a right to be bitter. At the University of Arkansas, we were there [when he was the head football coach] for seven years—seven bowl bids, four top 10 finishes, ran an honest program, graduated our athletes. [Yet] after seven years, on a Sunday morning, I got fired. They would not give me a reason.

“I was so mad. I wanted to go to the media. I wanted to blast everybody. My wife said, ‘No, you know what we’ll do. We’ll move on. We’re not going to be bitter.’ We went to [the University of] Minnesota. Two years later, Notre Dame is looking for a football coach. They called Frank Broyles, the guy that fired me. They said, ‘What about Coach Holtz?’ He said, ‘If you can, hire him immediately. The dumbest thing I ever did was let him go.’

“I ended up at Notre Dame because of the guy that fired me at Arkansas. And the only thing that saved me was my wife not allowing me to be bitter.”

Keep growing—“There’s a rule of life that says you’re either growing or you’re dying. Trees either grow or they’re dying. So does grass. So does a marriage. So does a business. So does a person. It doesn’t have anything to do with age. It has everything to do with, ‘Are you trying to maintain or are you trying to get better?’

“Any time you try to maintain anything in this world, you never have a reason to celebrate, you never have new ideas. Being enthusiastic about what you do is critical. It’s about having dreams and goals. Regardless of what age you are, there have to be things you want to accomplish, things you want to do.”

The three questions everyone will ask about you— “Everybody has three questions. I don’t care if you’re in business, married or a football coach. Number one, ‘Can I trust you?’ Without trust, there can be no relationship, and the only way you can have trust is when both sides do the right thing. The second question is, ‘Are you committed to excellence?’ That can only be answered if you do everything to the very best of your ability.

“And the last question everybody asks is, ‘Do you care about me?’ That can only be done when you reach out and show people on a consistent basis that you care. I guarantee you, the person you admire and respect, you’ve said ‘yes’ to all three questions.” †


Related story: Holtz captures essence of Spirit of Service winners

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