By Chris Johnson
Director of communications
Unlike so many folks I’ve met since I joined The Fuller Center for Housing, I didn’t have a friendship, relationship or professional association with our founder, Millard Fuller, who would have turned 77 years old today.
I met him a couple of times during the mid-1990s when I worked at the Americus Times-Recorder newspaper. The only conversation I recall having was during a golf tournament in 1994 at the local Brickyard Golf Club, which hosted a Futures Tour event that benefited Habitat for Humanity when Fuller was at the helm of the organization.
Of course, he put his arm around me and talked to me as if it were the 200th conversation we’d had and we’d known each other since 1935. I’d like to think that I’m just that engaging of a human being, but apparently it was the other way around. Millard had the unique ability to not only change the lives of thousands of people but also to make each and every person he talked to, no matter which rung they occupied on the ladder of life, feel like the most important person in the room.
The next year, I was lucky enough the next year to have a conversation with another man who changed a lot of lives, former President Jimmy Carter. We met while playing softball at Plains Days or some event like that in his hometown. It was there I learned how the Secret Service serves as umpires when the president plays softball and, therefore, he NEVER strikes out no matter how many times he swings and misses.
Millard and I talked golf. President Carter and I talked baseball, Braves baseball to be exact. Neither man acted as if he were anything other than just another guy on the street. And neither acted as if I were anywhere below them on the ladder of life … even though I most definitely was.
But I think that kind of attitude helps explain why they have been able to inspire average folks like me to be more and do more than they thought possible. Perhaps it was because they were average folks themselves, small-town boys from Lanett, Ala., and Plains, Ga.
One of the biggest differences between the two, though, is that one man went into politics. Right or wrong, that generates adversaries. But with Millard, folks on the left, the right, the center, religious, not religious – all these folks love him still and are inspired by his service.
People I work with every day were deeply inspired by Millard, and I see their commitment to his dream every single day I’m at work. I’ve worked with many dedicated workers during my days in the for-profit sector, but the drive in my co-workers is something different. And while I’ve contributed here and there to society, I was often too busy and too overworked to do much.
Now, having worked with such inspired people, it’s rubbed off on me. I can’t conceive of doing anything the rest of my life that doesn’t include a heavy dose of helping others help themselves. I guess my inspiration from Millard comes second-hand, through my co-workers and people like Linda Fuller and their daughter Faith, both of whom I’ve gotten to know over the past several months.
I can only imagine how much more inspiration I could have gained from Millard had I worked with him years ago. If only I’d have heard him tell his story way back when.
Alas, we just talked golf.
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