This is an excerpt from Life’s Leadership Lessons, a collection of 53 leadership articles designed for personal reflection or for use in leadership development meetings. ©2007 by Rick Weaver and used here with permission.
The day is forever etched into my memory. Sometimes I wish it would go away but the truth is there is an eerie comfort coming from the recollections.
It was just after 1:30 on the Thursday before Labor Day and I was facilitating a weekly video conference at Kmart’s Troy Headquarters. Suddenly the screen went blank.
All communications equipment in both facilities had locked up in unison and all back-up procedures failed. Not being able to complete the meeting, we all returned to our offices. For me returning to the office meant a five minute walk through the winding hallways of a building with a confusing layout. Eventually I reached the area where my office was located.
Jackie, my Administrative Assistant, was standing anxiously for my arrival. “You have a call coming in. They say it’s an emergency. You need to take it.”
I picked up the receiver and pressed the flashing button. A firm business-like voice on the other end said, “This is Crittenton Hospital Emergency. There has been an accident and you need to come here right away.”
To this day it is not clear why my normal inquisitive nature did not seek to probe the situation further. Perhaps it was the tone of voice or the authoritarian manner in which the message was given. All I know is I immediately put on my suit coat and headed toward the door telling Jackie I would be back as soon as possible.
The walk to the car was tense. I wasn’t sure what was wrong and was mad at not getting more information. As I turned one of the corners I walked right into, Charlie Thompson, a Christian friend. He could tell I was troubled. His facial expression indicated he knew something was wrong, but he was not quite sure what it was.
“Charlie, please pray. The hospital called. I don’t know what is wrong. Please pray.”
“Do you need a ride?”
“No, I’ll do okay,” I replied out of fear he would not drive fast enough.
Somehow my mind knew the accident the nurse had referred to was an auto accident. I turned the radio to the channel that had traffic every ten minutes to see if they would say something.
It is not clear if I heard a report on the radio as my next recollection was approaching the hospital. An addition was being built and picketers were blocking the Emergency Entrance. They were talking to a driver trying to go through their line.
For some reason the corner of my eye caught an array of flashing lights on the corner, no more than two-tenths of a mile ahead. Fire engines and police cars had the entire intersection blocked off. The main entrance to the hospital was just around the corner so I proceeded toward the lights.
Then I saw the family car. It was off to the side of the intersection with mangled metal where Christopher normally sat. Police officers began to charge toward my car which at this point was speeding toward the accident scene. I stopped and jumped out saying, “That’s my car” as I pointed.
A sheriff’s deputy said come with me, ushering me to one of their cars. She then drove me through the picket line to the Emergency Room where three nurses were waiting for me.
They met me in the parking lot as the deputy opened the door for me.
“There’s been an accident,” one said. “We think your wife is okay, but she won’t let us check her. Your oldest son has some cuts to his forehead and will be okay. Your middle son is being admitted but does not seem to have any life threatening injuries.”
She paused before changing my life forever.
“Your youngest son didn’t make it.”