Celebrating the life of Phil Ramone Saturday night, I was reminded of my own mortality. I’m turning 34 soon. Which means my life is 1/3 over. That is, if my pack of M&M’s a day habit doesn’t truncate my lifespan.
Phil (#PhilRamone on Twitter) produced Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday” song to JFK. He taught Kevin Spacey how to sing. He worked with Barbra Streisand, Matthew Morrison (curly haired guy on Glee), Bette Midler, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Peter, Paul & Mary.
Up on the Salvation Army stage last weekend, as Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Tony Bennett, and all these talented & famous people got up and eulogized Phil, I kept hearing the same words to describe him – “kind.”
Kindness is Phil’s legacy.
His wife Karen, 3 children, scores of artists who were spotted and mentored by this incredible man, and of course the kiddos in the orchestra Phil founded thru The Salvation Army – were all touched by the kindness of this “gentle giant”.
This kindness manifested itself in what Billy Joel described as Phil’s exuberant “joy” – a joy in music, in life, and in celebrating others that made Phil the man he was – a servant and an encourager.
Phil let artists take risks. He didn’t hoard opportunities or industry contacts for himself – he spotted young talent (like Peter Cincotti & Nikki Yanofsky) to assure others got a chance in the studio, a chance to share of their talents.
Phil exuded humility, an outgrowth of kindness and joy. At our gala committee meetings Phil listened intently, practiced patience when the meetings went long, and had zero, and I do mean zero, ego. The guy seemed never to have an agenda or an angle. He was all heart. All gentleness.
But it’s not just the intangibles of kindness, joy, and humility that Phil leaves behind. As the ultimate testament to a life lived for others, Phil founded The Salvation Army Phil Ramone Orchestra for Children up in Harlem. He invested his money, time, and energy in assuring that kids who may not otherwise get to hold a violin, got to. Kids who may not have the privilege of music lessons – got to.
There’s a word for that. Grace.
The Hebrew word for grace “chesed” is the same word used for compassion – it’s essentially unmerited generosity.
Celebrating Phil prompts me to step back from my own life and ruminate upon all the people who’ve shown me grace and unmerited generosity I didn’t deserve.
People like my parents, my boss, my News Corp mentor, my Salvation Army friends, my sibs, my colleagues…everyone who’s taken time to teach me things, challenge me, who’ve introduced me to new opportunities and people .
But Phil’s life also prompts me to think about what a room full of people will say about me when I leave this earth one day.
How will I be remembered by the people I work with, my family, my doorman, my barista, the lady at Duane Reade who supplies my M&M pack per day?
There’s a challenge in this, a challenge to live like Phil by pouring out to others, to focus less on achievement and more on service, to find ways to share what’s been given.
That’s the lesson of Phil’s life of kindness. And the challenge to all of us still here – to remember that in the end we take nothing with us. Possessions and stuff won’t last. It’s what we gave away that matters most.
Phil chose to leave behind a lasting legacy. A legacy that changes lives and indeed changes the world. A legacy of kindness.