I have a very heavy heart right now because Sandy McDonnell passed away. You see, he was my hero. Like many others who knew and loved this great man, I now feel a huge emptiness in my life that I know will never be filled. I loved Sandy like a father.

It was a great blessing to have him in my corner for the five years I served as CEP’s executive director. Anyone who knows me would surely tell you that I needed all the help I could get, too. And that was especially true since I had no experience in the nonprofit sector until Sandy and others hired me.  

Fortunately, on the work front, Sandy was always there for me. He coached and guided me through all of the really important and tough areas of running any organization—like financial management, strategic planning, human resources and more.

And, Sandy did all of this mentoring quietly and behind-the-scenes. Board members, staff and others never knew all he did for me from the shadows. That’s because Sandy was one of those very rare but genuine servant leaders that many of us read about but never meet. He couldn’t care less about being in the spotlight. Instead, he worked to make everyone else around him shine. 

Along my journey with Sandy, there is no doubt he taught me a lot about being a better leader and manager. However, what I really learned from him was how to be a better person.  We talked about this topic often which will come as no surprise. Heck, everyone knows that developing good people was Job #1 for Sandy. However, most of what I learned from him on this front was from the example he set. It’s no fluke that he planted roots in the “Show Me” state—he showed me, and thousands of others, what good character looks like in action.   

So it was in this other far more important area, the one called life, where Sandy McDonnell taught me the most. Through example, he showed me how to be a good husband and father…how to be humble…how to be nonjudgmental…how to treat others with dignity and respect…how to talk less and listen more…how to be totally honest at all times…how to maintain a sense of humor and positive attitude…how to give back…and, even when dying, how to maintain faith, dignity and strength in the gravest of situations.

Yes, Sandy McDonnell taught lots of us how to be better managers. However, far more importantly, he taught us how to be better human beings. And he taught in the most effective way possible–by the way he lived and the example he set. Sandy understood what was really important in life—good character. More importantly, he showed us what it looks like in action.  

There are lots of tributes being written about Sandy right now by many others who knew and loved him. However, I believe all of us can best honor him by pledging to follow his example and doing all that we can to live good and decent lives ourselves. Furthermore, I believe we should also commit to continuing the important work he started and led for most of his life–developing good character in young people. If we do these two things, I know that our dear Sandy will look down from above with a giant smile on his face.

We appreciate your existence, Sandy…and loved you dearly.