Start writing your own obituary

After his passing last week, the tributes to Wayne Shackelford were as numerous as they were deserved. As I read comment after comment about the former state transportation commissioner and county administrator, they kept hitting me the same way.

They made me want to be a better person.

If you read any of the stories about the man they called "Shack," noted the columns written in his honor or listened to the eulogy delivered at his funeral, you'd agree the descriptions used are ones you'd choose if you were writing your own obituary.

I guess one way or another we all end up writing our own obit in the end, with the way we live, treat others, etc. And that's what stood out to me more than anything about Shackelford.

His is an amazing story, from sharecropper's son to county extension agent to county administrator to head of the state DOT. That part of his life led people to call him a visionary, a leader and a uniter. But the words I kept coming back to were friend, confidant and mentor.

It's one thing to have a vision, quite another to band together people to make it a reality. Shackelford called himself a "motivational engineer," and what better title to have when your job is to figuratively as well as literally move people.

I knew Shackelford just well enough to exchange hellos. But I do know how much hard work, by both him and the people who worked for and with him, it took to accomplish as much as he did. That he was able to motivate, not alienate, those people to reach such high levels is an example we'd all be good to follow.

They named an interchange and a Transportation Management Center for Shackelford, but I can assure you those aren't his true legacies. What made him stand out are the same things that made him beloved - the ability to connect with people, the desire to mentor and the easy way he related to folks.

In his obituary, there were organizations to which memorial gifts could be sent in lieu of flowers. In addition to honoring the man in that way, I suggest another.

Help out with 4-H, which Shackelford was so involved. Sponsor a Cub Scout Troop. Tutor a child. Volunteer. Be a Big Brother. Mentor a young business associate. Take an intern under your wing. Make somebody feel special with the time, and care, you take.

It would be the perfect way to recognize a man like Wayne Shackelford. And a good way for us all to start writing our own obituary.

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appear on Wednesdays.