The Farm Chronicles: The Johnny U lesson

No matter where we went, Dad knew somebody or knew somebody that somebody knew. One time we were in an elevator in Kansas City and Dad struck up a quick conversation with a gentleman. Turned out they knew the same person from a different city in a different state. Then it was like old home week, a story, a good laugh and all this happened while going down about three floors. The elevator door opened and off we went. Another friend made. Another story to tell. There were times we were at horse auctions in Missouri or Kentucky and Dad would be carrying on with somebody that I had never seen before. Turned out they might have been distant relatives or friends of a friend. Dad never met a stranger.

This was kind of the way it was back in the mid-to-late 1900s. People were friendly. You learned at a young age the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you–A modern version of Christ’s words in Luke 6:31, “And as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them likewise.” Treating people fairly and with kindness was the rule. But it was deeper than that. There was also a component of “mind your own business.” Dad was friendly, but there were limits. He had a good sense of timing about approaching people or just leaving them alone. This was probably something instilled in him as a youngster going through many hardships on the farm and learning proper etiquette.

Along about 1967, when we were on vacation at Myrtle Beach, SC, Dad asked me if I wanted to go to lunch with him. Of course! We were strolling along the sidewalk and came upon a diner that sold beer-battered hot dogs, and Dad wanted to try one. So we each took a stool at the counter and made our order. Along came a man and asked if he could sit at the stool next to Dad. No problem. Food came. Dad and this guy were like old friends, and I began to wonder where I had seen him before. A lot of talk about horses and Ohio and Pennsylvania. The man finished his hot dog and said, “Well, it was great seeing you.” Dad replied, “Have a good one.” The man walked off and disappeared in the crowded sidewalk.

After he left, I asked Dad who he was. Dad said, “You just had lunch with Johnny Unitas.” I said something like, “Wow, are you kidding. I want to get his autograph,” and I started getting up to go catch him. Dad explained to me that Unitas was there as a private citizen and that we needed to respect that he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. We had a discussion that you should treat everyone, regardless of their station in life, as you would want to be treated. It is a lesson that this meager farm boy has carried with me all my life and it has served me well as a confidant of presidents, congressmen, actors, professional athletes and CEOs of large companies. Johnny U went on to win his third NFL MVP award that year. But my Dad and his wisdom is my MVP every year, even though he is no longer with me here on earth.

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Bill Wilson