Several years ago, I visited Muir Woods near San Francisco, California. This is a beautiful place filled with some of the tallest trees in the world. The root systems of these trees can extend over 100’ from the base, intertwining with the roots of other Redwoods. This increases their stability during strong winds and floods. New Redwoods grow most successfully from sprouts, rather than seeds, that form around the base of the tree. These sprouts utilize the nutrients and root system of the mature tree from which they came. When the parent tree dies, a new generation of trees rises and creates a circle of trees around the dead tree.
Recently, a friend shared with me a memorial video for her father who died unexpectedly of a heart attack on Christmas Eve a few years ago. One person who spoke at her father’s funeral described her dad Wally as “a tree in the forest.” This description immediately reminded me of the California Redwoods. As the video went on, I saw more and more how Wally truly was “a tree in the forest,” and how his legacy reflects that of the Redwoods.
While I did not know Wally, I do know his family and especially my friend who showed me the video. Clearly, Wally had a strong root system intertwined with so many others as was evident in the huge showing of people to pay respects to him at his funeral. He was strongly intertwined not only with others in his community but especially with his family whom he clearly loved and around whom his life revolved. The number of people he touched and impacted and with whom is life was intertwined is a legacy that will far outlive anyone who knew him.
Wally’s family clearly has circled their lives around and been strengthened by his life. The memories they have of him truly give them “nutrients” and strength that they now use to positively impact others lives in a way that reflects how he impacted their lives.
At his funeral, Wally was also described as a person with “passion and purpose.” He was passionate about his family, passionate about the outdoors, passionate about his work as a fireman and policeman… simply passionate about living a full life. His purpose included not only giving people second chances but also giving them instruction on how to best make those second chances happen in a positive way.
Another aspect of Wally’s life that stood out to me is the fact that while he did so much for others, he was also a very humble man. He didn’t like the limelight or attention, and he was often found working behind the scenes at church events. This stuck out to me because I see that trait reflected in his daughter, who is one of my dearest friends. She may not realize it, but her dad is visible in her in some very powerful ways. I feel like I know Wally, even though I never met him, simply because I know his daughter. In this way, Wally’s impact is going beyond those who knew him into lives that know those who knew and loved him. His legacy is going beyond the circle of trees that surrounded him and into a new circle of “saplings.”
And so on the anniversary of his death (He died on Christmas Eve.), I pay tribute to Wallace “Wally” Simmons. Thank you for being a person who strengthened and nurtured others in a way that will go far beyond what you could have imagined. Thank you for being an awesome dad to my friend who now carries on your legacy in humble and passionate ways.