Executive Director's Perspective: Gratitude for a Fallen Hero—Kelly Pace - By Melissa J. Schank

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Saturday, December 15th, 2018

“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The holidays can be so stressful at times. We go straight from Thanksgiving into December festivities. Some skip through Thanksgiving altogether and slam right into Black Friday—now known as early Thursday. They rush to eat and spend time with everyone so they can get out and get the best deals. As I drive through my neighborhood during the first week of November, some neighbors are already putting up holiday decorations. “Woooooo!” I want to scream and tell everyone to slow down. Let’s take one holiday at a time and enjoy our family and friends as much as possible.

Work can be extra stressful this time of the year because everyone wants to take off in November and December. So what do we do? We work 60-plus hours so we can take off, only to come back to work another 60-plus hours to catch up. Why do we do this? Because we are sure no one could do our job while we are out—or maybe because something could fall through the cracks.

In the midst of all the craziness, I was stunned when I heard the sad news of the passing of Kelly Pace. I was heartbroken. I did not have the chance to give him my thanks for everything he did for me, for TCDLA, and especially for the staff. To tell him how I appreciated his generous spirit, always engaging me in conversation and challenging me since the day I met him 14 years ago. He impacted me personally in ways that will stay with me forever. I found myself thinking how I take so many things for granted. I am always in such a rush to be efficient, to get the job done, and often I do not stop and appreciate those who surround and encourage and support me.

Kelly always sought out new attorneys, attorneys who just joined—sometimes the first time they came to a TCDLA event or meeting—and constantly made them feel included and welcomed. He would always talk to every staff member and bring special gifts annually. He would get to know each person at a personal level, always checking on everyone to make sure they were okay. He put everyone’s well-being above his own. He was dedicated, the most unselfish person I’ve ever known.

When Kelly and his wife Therese walked into a room, their aura of love and happiness was contagious. Kelly was an inspiration to everyone he encountered—most of all to me.

It made me think about my parents, children, family, and friends. What had I done to support and encourage them? How could I be more like Kelly and make sure I acknowledged every person and genuinely make them feel unique, important? I need to learn from his example and take the time to speak with all, listen to what they are saying—rather than just hearing.

I shared with several friends the sadness I felt—and the guilt, maybe, for not being a better person. Kelly was someone who always made time for me, and I felt remiss in that I didn’t tell him everything I wanted him to know about what he meant to me. One friend said, well, you can be sad or angry, whichever is appropriate, or you can think about what the takeaway is: What did you learn from this tragedy? I stopped to consider this, then realized I had already started thinking that way—about how to slow down, in general, and stop relying so much on technology to communicate. I needed to talk to, interact with, those who mean a lot to me and continually remind them how much I ap­preciate and value them.

Needless to say, I miss Kelly very much. I cannot imagine going to another TCDLA event and not seeing his beautiful smile. I can say I genuinely hold his memory dear, and feel I owe him a debt of gratitude for all the guidance and encouragement he gave me throughout the years. To this day, he continues to teach me life lessons. For this, Kelly will forever be in my heart.

And so, this holiday season I will try my hardest to slow down and take a break from work. I need to enjoy life a little, spend time with family, visit friends I seem to always be too busy to see. I will keep reminding myself that if there is an emergency, everyone knows my cellphone number and can get ahold of me. The work will still be there when I return, and I will complete it just as efficiently as I would have.

What are your expectations for this holiday and beyond? As for me, I wish you and your family a joyous holiday!