Saying Goodbye to the Greatest Generation

In the all-too brief period from December 11, 2020, to January 2, 2021, my mother-in-law Mary Grey Randolph went from living at home with a full-time caregiver to the hospital for surgery back to home for recovery, and then back to the hospital briefly, before moving to hospice care for two days, before passing on 1/2/21.

We shared a birthdate, and she often joked and wondered if I would ever catch up with her – and oh, by the way, she was planning on living to be 100.

Though she didn’t quite make it to her 100th birthday, she was living in her 100th year, so she gets full credit for that!

Mimmie, as she was affectionally known to our family, was the last of her generation in our extended family. Her husband passed away in 2015.

They were the Greatest Generation.

Much more than the titles of the great books by Tom Brokaw, Doc and Mary Grey nevertheless were the Greatest Generation, the likes of one which we have not seen since, and are likely not to see again – at least for awhile.

Mary Grey’s long life was marked by devotion to her God and church; love and nourishing her family; and compassion for others.

Mary Grey and W.L. “Doc” Randolph were married in 1943, lived apart for most of the war years, and began their family life in Goodlettsville, TN following the end of WW II.

Her vocational career included office management and bookkeeping responsibilities in several companies for over five decades. After retirement, her full-time occupation was keeping Doc in line, and as beloved “Mimmie” to her grandchildren.

Mary Grey was a long-time member at her church, and was involved in many activities and responsibilities over the years.

She and Doc, along with four other couples, personified friendship, care, and affection through the Sunday Night Bunch, which gathered weekly for over six decades.

She was devoted to her large family, and always took joy in hosting family gatherings from a single grandchild to dozens of family members for all occasions.

To me, that’s a pretty good definition of “greatest.”

The G.I. Generation, born 1901-1924, developed a special and good-kid reputation as the beneficiaries of new playgrounds, scouting clubs, vitamins, and child-labor restrictions. They came of age with the sharpest rise in schooling ever recorded. As young adults, their uniformed corps patiently endured the depression and heroically conquered foreign enemies. In a mid-life subsidized by the G.I. Bill, the build gleaming suburbs, invented miracle vaccines, plugged missile gaps, and launched moon rockets. Their unprecedented grip on the presidency began with a New Frontier, a Great Society, and Model Cities, but wore down through Vietnam, Watergate, deficits, and problems with “the vision thing.” As senior citizens, they safeguarded their own “entitlements” but had little influence over culture and values. Representatives of this generation include John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Walt Disney, Judy Garland, John Wayne, and Walter Cronkite.

William Strauss and Neil Howe, Generations

The event that not only named my in-laws’ generation, but shaped their character as young adults, was World War II. As recounted by Tom Brokaw, “There may never be again be a time when all the layers of our complex society are so completely absorbed in a monumental challenge as they were during WW II.”

Everyone had a role; everyone understood that the successful outcome of the war was critical to the continuing evolution of political and personal freedom.

The nation was infused with a sense of purpose and patriotism. Political leaders, the popular culture, advertising, newspapers, and radio cheered on the war effort once the fighting began. For many young men and women, that call to duty and the constant reminders of its importance in their lives and to the whole country marked their lives during the war and long after.

As I have written about a great deal on this site, I believe that our generations revolve in cycles. Interestingly, the premier researchers in this field, William Strauss and Neil Howe, believed that the generation that will most closely mimic the Greatest Generation in life events and achievements, is the Millennial generation.

The Millennials, those born 1982-2004, are the new “Greatest Generation” – not in name but in deed?

We face a much different type of “battle” today; one not against a named nation or group of nations, but against ourselves.

This cartoon, taken from decades of display on Mimmie’s fridge door, reflects both her life and attitude.

When two different groups view our objectives with a short-sighted and selfish nature, no one will be happy and we will both become quickly frustrated. We will tug and strain, and ultimately fail.

But if we come together and reason, give of ourselves and give up our selfish motives, we will succeed beyond our wildest dreams.

May it be so with the Millennials (Mimmie’s grandchildren), as it was with her Greatest Generation.

Mary Grey Randolph, 1921-2021

Tradition

 Part 4 of a 4-part series on Generations in ChurchWorld

Last week this post introduced the generational lens that shapes a lot of my views. Monday I began this four-part series by looking at the Millennials; on Tuesday it was Generation X, and Wednesday it was the Baby Boomers. Today I want to look at the fourth of four generations active in ChurchWorld leadership roles today, and the implications for you as a leader with your own team.

G.I. Generation (Born 1901-1924)

Silent Generation (Born 1925-1945)

There are actually two distinct generations represented in today’s post, but due to the small number of G.I. Generations still involved in leadership roles in churches, I am going to look at them as a group.

Scarcity is a common denominator for these two groups. Between two world wars and the Great Depression, these generations had plenty of opportunities to do without. The need to “save for a rainy day” was tangible, and “Waste not, want not” was more than a slogan – it was a commandment. No wonder these generations later disapproved of the Boomers’ eagerness to pay two dollars for a bottle of fancy water! Symbols carried great weight. From swastikas to Sputnik and from flappers to flat tops, these were generations that drove their roadsters to drive-ins, smoke cigarettes and drank ice-cold Coca-Cola, and stacked a few 45s on the record player and did the twist.

Defining events such as World War I, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II, the Korean War, and the GI Bill changed millions of lives and shaped the God-fearing, hardworking, patriotic character of these two amazing generations.

The generational personality of these two groups who lived through these events and conditions can be described in a single word: loyal. These are generations that learned at an early age that by putting aside the needs and wants of the individual and working together toward common goals, they could accomplish amazing things. They learned to partner with large institutions in order to get things done, like winning two world wars, conquering the Great Depression, and sending a man to the moon. These are generations that still have an immense amount of faith in institutions, from the church to the government to the military.

– “When Generations Collide,” by Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman

What is the impact of the G.I. and Silent Generations in ChurchWorld today?

It is diminishing due to age, limited mobility, and illness, but the spark of service still burns bright. These two generations have a strong sense of obligation to serve the church. For decades they have been at the heart of their church, and they remain dedicated and willing to help where they can. Of all the generations discussed, they are the most church-going, and they give generously to their churches.

Characteristics like the following served these generations well during dark and troubled times in our nation’s history; they continue to serve by being passed along to younger generations.

  • Hard working
  • Savers
  • Frugal
  • Patriotic
  • Loyal
  • Private
  • Cautious
  • Respectful
  • Dependable
  • Stable
  • Intolerant

For the G.I. and Silent Generations, hard work, self-discipline, and sacrifice have paid off. They survived the difficult years of war and economic depression and believe that the affluence of the 1950s and 1960s proved that striving and surviving were the right way to go.

Even though the youngest of these generations is age 66 and the oldest above 100, don’t make the mistake that they have nothing to contribute. The characteristics listed above not only served to keep our nation strong in difficult times, they can be tapped by younger generations as a gift of legacy.

How are you honoring, remembering, and tapping into the G.I. and Silent Generation?

Generational Disclosure: My parents are from the Silent Generation; my in-laws are from the G.I. Generation. As a young boy, I was lucky to have grown up spending a great deal of time around my father and his peers because we lived right behind the gas station he owned and operated. I grew up listening to stories of WW I and II from men who had been there and survived; I experienced first hand the optimism of the 60s and the tremendous  changes America went through. In college and graduate school my professors were primarily from these two generations; my first “bosses” were also part of these generations. In short, most of the adult influencers, from parents to professors to pastors were from these two generations. They were, and remain, the Greatest Generation.

 I hope you have enjoyed this briefest of introductions to the generations now serving as leaders in ChurchWorld. You will be seeing more in the future!