John Lewis Had A “Storied, Remarkable Career” And Other Quotes About The Congressman

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 15: U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) (R) is presented with the 2010 Medal of … [+] Freedom by President Barack Obama during an East Room event at the White House February 15, 2011 in Washington, DC. Obama presented the medal, the highest honor awarded to civilians, to twelve pioneers in sports, labor, politics and arts. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Honorable Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) was eulogized today by former President Barack Obama during a funeral service held at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Three U.S. presidents, the speaker of the House and other dignitaries attended and spoke during the service.

Congressman Lewis died in Atlanta on Friday, July 17, at the age of 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. His funeral was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church—the same church where Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastor. It’s also the same church where John Lewis (as campaign organizer) escorted presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy to view the coffin of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, April 8, 1968, after King had been assassinated for his own civil rights activism.

For nearly two weeks, the country has been spotlighting Lewis’ civil rights activism and highlighting his political accomplishments as congressional leader for Georgia’s 5th district. Here are key quotes from the three former U.S. presidents who spoke during the funeral service and a reflection on what these quotes mean for building a successful life, career and legacy.

Former Presidents Barack Obama, George Bush and Bill Clinton each attended and spoke during the Thursday funeral service. It should be noted that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also shared remarks, and former President Jimmy Carter sent a message that was read during the service.

“I mentioned in the statement the day John passed, the thing about John was just how gentle and humble he was. And despite this storied, remarkable career, he treated everyone with kindness and respect because it was innate to him. This idea that any of us can do what he did, if we’re willing to persevere.”

This quote informs that how we treat others—whether or not we make it easy for people to approach and engage with us—is just as important (if not more) to career success as power, status and influence. John Lewis enjoys an enduring legacy today, but it was built one brick at a time over the course of his remarkable career. You never get the feeling or impression that the motives for his career choices were in any way connected to a desire or drive for celebrity, fame or wealth. As a very young man John Lewis wanted to create and compel change, and then he decided that he’d go ahead and pay the cost (make the sacrifice) necessary to achieve those goals.

As his profile and career took off, John Lewis remained humble, approachable and accessible. It’s precisely because of this, not despite of it, that he’s had such an extraordinary impact on so many people who observed him, met him, worked with him and worked for him. If your leadership creates an environment where people can do their best work and feel stronger and more empowered after dealing with you, you are doing something right. John Lewis owned his power to lead. Do you own your power to lead?

John Lewis has “been called an American saint—a believer willing to give up everything, even life itself to bear witness to the truth that drove him all his life.”

This quote made me reflect upon the fact that some people choose their careers more freely than others. When you build your career upon a calling, a purpose and a passion, you find that you are driven—compelled even—to follow a particular path even when you find that you’d sometimes rather take a different path or a different journey. This quote reflects on how some people will say that they didn’t really choose their careers so much as their careers chose them.

Representative Lewis proved that he had the mental strength to lead. He spent his entire life building the career and legacy that everyone celebrates today. He did this during challenging and painful times. He did it when it looked to others like he was losing. He did it when he wanted to give up. He did it because he was compelled to by greater forces than himself. And he was willing to give up everything to accomplish his goals.

If I could just do one thing (one last thing in my life), “I would infect every American with whatever it was that John Lewis got as a four-year-old kid and took through a lifetime to keep moving and keep moving in the right direction and keep bringing other people to move…”

This quote alludes to perseverance. It alludes to determination and it alludes to leadership. Today, we deem Representative John Lewis to have lived a meaningful life with a successful career, and he is receiving such esteemed recognition because of the way he persevered in life, because of his determination and focus and because he was a civil rights and political leader. But this should not be mistaken to mean in any way that John Lewis didn’t want to quit sometimes.

It should never stand to mean that things came easy for John Lewis. The message from this is that John Lewis—as with most other successful people—achieved success in spite of struggles and challenges not because he didn’t have any. In doing this, his legacy will continue to inspire many others to do the same.

I am a strategist, management consultant, executive coach and international speaker and have delivered meaningful results for executives and leaders across 3 continents,

I am a strategist, management consultant, executive coach and international speaker and have delivered meaningful results for executives and leaders across 3 continents, 7 countries and 44 states. I serve as CEO for ARVis Institute, a strategy, change, performance and human capital consulting firm. I have committed my research, education and professional talents to transforming governments, corporations, nonprofits and educational institutions and develop leaders and managers who have the capacity to create high-performing organizations and the competence to affect positive change.


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