Last week, my grandpa, Thomas Jefferson Hathaway, died of a brain hemorrhage. It is rare to say this about someone who was 79 years old, but he died before his time.
My grandpa was running hard until the end, completing a half-marathon on March 25, and a 10-mile race on April 14, just over a week before his death. He was planning to do the 500 Festival Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis this Saturday.
In the week since his death, numerous tributes have appeared, including a post on the Indianapolis Star’s blog, a feature in the print edition of the Star, the Indianapolis Business Journal, and a number of others which I’ve attempted to compile at the bottom of this post.
In an inversion of the normal rule of the internet, where reading the “Comments” section on any page crushes your faith in humanity, the comments on the many articles about my grandpa were incredibly uplifting, and people shared stories that many of us in the family hadn’t even heard before.
Massive crowds turned out for the viewing last Wednesday, waiting in line 2-3 hours and causing us to stay at the mortuary until almost 11 pm. My grandparents church, Rosedale Hills United Methodist, had to use every available space as overflow rooms to hold the many who came to the funeral.
That we hadn’t heard all the tales told about my grandpa and that so many people wanted to celebrate his life were tribute to my grandpa’s legend. It might seem odd to say this about someone who was such a close relation, and with whom I spent so much time, but my grandpa was truly larger than life.
He was ahead of his time in so many ways. He was running marathons and training others to do so long before it became a “thing.” Several years ago, he became part of an elite group of runners who have completed a marathon in all 50 US states. He was a proponent of women’s athletics and fought many battles with the IHSAA (the governing body for high school sports in Indiana) at a time when women were seen as unfit for some sports. My grandpa was a biology teacher and had five daughters, so he was unimpressed with IHSAA’s reasoning for not allowing girls to run long distance events.
Although my grandpa was a rather humble and unassuming man, his ability to inspire people was profound. I have heard many doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who claimed that they went into their field because of my grandpa’s biology classes.
He fashioned state championship-winning teams out of kids who had never thought of themselves as being great runners. Several of his runners went on to become high school or college coaches themselves, always inspired by, and seeking to emulate my grandpa.
The deep and wide influence of my grandpa made it impossible to go anywhere without running into someone who knew him. I was lucky enough as a kid to have traveled with my grandpa to a lot of road races, and it became almost comical how many people would know him wherever we went, whether in or out of state. Even when I wasn’t with him, and was traveling outside of what I thought to be his sphere of influence — from my best friend’s cousin’s graduation in suburban Maryland to the rural church in middle-of-nowhere South Dakota where my wife’s father is a pastor — I met people who knew and admired my grandpa.
The outsized impact my grandpa had also gives me hope. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who knew and loved him and appreciated the role he played in their lives. But there are countless others who might not have known my grandpa but were nonetheless impacted by him — women who got the chance to run cross-country or track & field, patients who were treated by the doctors that he inspired, etc.
I imagine that would be grandpa’s ideal plan: impacting others without having to be the centre of attention.
Some more tributes to my Grandpa
Article from Southside Times, a local paper on the south side of Indianapolis
Article by Erhard Bell, one of Grandpa’s former students and runners on Hoosier Authority, a high school sports site
An article on the University of Indianapolis website, where my grandpa coached and was inducted into the Hall of Fame
A post on the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC) blog.