Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Light One Candle
On Farewells, Faith and Fathers

by Dennis Heaney

(From the June 14, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Dennis Heaney Time magazine recently published its list of the 100 most influential people in the world. They broke down the list into various categories including leaders and revolutionaries, scientists and thinkers, and heroes and pioneers. I was happy to see that one member of the last group is Tony Dungy, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, one of the most respected men in the world of sports. This past season, he became the first African-American coach in the NFL to win the Super Bowl.

I’ve been watching Tony Dungy for over 30 years, starting when he was an outstanding quarterback for my University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. He is the quintessential “class act” and it’s not hard to understand why people on and off the playing field look up to him. A man of strong principles, he takes his job as a coach seriously. Maybe that’s why so many of those around him see him as a mentor and a teacher. But it was a couple of columns by Rick Reilly in Sports Illustrated that really told me all I needed to know about the quality of this man.

Now, the first article was actually about another guy, Mark Lemke, a truck driver from Iowa. He wrote to Reilly last summer to tell him all about his son Cory, a 19-year -old who had set a bunch of local golf records, been an accomplished wrestler, and above all, a great kid and his best pal. Lemke said he’d been meaning to write Reilly for years, but had just never gotten around to it – until his son was killed in a motorcycle accident.

A lot of us read that story of a father’s pride, love and grief. I bet more than one dad or mom stopped to think for a moment about his or her own children, about the brevity of life and the finality of death, before moving on to other matters. One of those readers was Tony Dungy. But he didn’t move on.

In a follow-up article that appeared a few weeks ago, Rick Reilly wrote that Dungy phoned Lemke to say, “I’m just calling to offer my condolences to you and see if there’s anything I can do to help you.” Before you think, well, that was a nice thing to do, understand that it was a lot more. At Christmas time a year earlier, Dungy’s oldest son James, 18, had hanged himself.

The coach and the truck driver shared a terrible grief.

Over the following months, they stayed in close touch by e-mail and phone. Reilly writes that “they go deep sometimes. Lemke gets hot at God for taking Cory. Dungy tells him that’s normal, but he adds that if they keep their faith, ‘we’ll see them again.’”

Then the Colts make it to the Super Bowl and Dungy invites Lemke to be his guest. The day before the big game they meet for the first time; they talk and they pray. The next day the coach makes history.

But for Mark Lemke, his friend Tony Dungy has done far more than that. “He helped me keep my faith,” he says. “He taught me that he and I – we’re not alone.”

I can’t imagine the loss these men have felt. I don’t want to. No father or mother should have to know the immeasurable anguish of burying a child. But I completely agree with Rick Reilly when he says that “there is a way through the pain. And that way is through each other.”

No matter what you’ve heard, nice guys don’t finish last. Sometimes they even wind up on the cover of Time.

(Dennis Heaney is Director of The Christophers, an organization dedicated to the proposition that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. For a free copy of the Christopher News Note “Dealing with Grief,” write to: The Christophers, 12 E. 48th St., New York, NY 10017; or e-mail:

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