Riley Greenwood Illustrates a Secret
Perhaps we don’t realize we are building a legacy while we are building it. It doesn’t start out as an intentional act or a goal or destination. Legacies evolve. There’s an impressive feeling that strikes an observer of someone else’s life when the full measure of what was accomplished by that person is finally witnessed in totality. Are you a legacy builder? The recent passing of Valley Center, Kansas’ Riley Greenwood — father, husband, friend, 33-year teacher, Scout leader and coach — brings the painful yet warm idea of legacy to my mind. Perhaps my friend is continuing to teach us something important.
Beyond the natural shock, grief, and ceremony experienced when we lose someone, as the emotional waves settle, we are left to explore and enjoy their legacy. Riley Greenwood left behind a metaphorical mountain. Discussions of legacy involve the key ingredients of “impacting others positively” and “being memorable.” Riley achieved both. I had the interesting opportunity to experience the bookends of Riley’s career. He arrived to Valley Center a freshly degreed teacher during my sophomore year in 1984. He was an assistant coach for our football team and he was young, brash, motivating, and all the things a teen could love and yet find slightly irritating — because he wanted his students to be better. We kept in touch as I went to college and then we paused because life got busy. Fast forward 30 years and Riley and I reconnected in 2017 as he wanted to start a school trapshooting team and he knew it is my competitive sport. Once again, we had the opportunity to connect as we met several times to catch up, practice shooting, and share. In his summary of what he had done over the years and what he wanted to do going forward, I was amazed and inspired. He wasn’t just getting older… he was accelerating.
After his recent fall from a deer stand which required surgery, I wanted to message Riley and playfully remind him of his increasing age — but I realized he was still climbing, and doing, and experiencing all he wanted to experience — and that is the opportunity life provides. Best of all, he was building up others along the way. He had a zeal for so much about life and he shared it. As he wryly bragged that his car was surpassing 300,000 miles, I realized that Riley had made a decision to pursue impact more than money and his style made him memorable. He found his groove in teaching and went to work expanding his influence upon many lives. I doubt it seemed like work to him all the time but teenagers aren’t always listening. Yet, “Mr. Greenwood” found a way. Via biology classes, Scouts, clubs, exploration, trapshooting and countless interactions with thousands of kids, he made incremental investments in so many. His dynamism was memorable. He had polished a style and wit that could win you over. Not everyone loved it but he wasn’t afraid to give you his best advice. If he pulled you aside for a chat, you remembered it. I carry a piece of his legacy because he invested time and effort in me. Nearly all my teachers through the years have contributed to who I am. I am thankful.
Riley Greenwood’s sudden and unexpected passing reminds me: We cannot know how long we have to build our legacy. You and I have already started. Are we creating a legacy we like? Great fanfare or deeds aren’t required — only an awareness and energy to accelerate our efforts in a meaningful direction toward others. That direction can be new and it can start immediately. Each of us can ask ourselves as builders of our own legacy, “How memorable and impactful am I upon the lives of others?” — M
Mike Whitaker is the author of THE DECISION MAKEOVER, technology CEO of GuestX, and founder of Idea Gateway, which creates and invests in technical startups. Whitaker is Co-Founder and board member of RevTech Accelerator, a leading venture accelerator seed fund. He received his B.S. in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Kansas and his MBA from Price College of Business at the University of Oklahoma. For more information, visit www.mikewhitaker.com.