Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Big Papa’s Legacy

This year’s “Pig Pickin’” barbeque and family gathering on Memorial Day weekend in Brookhaven, Mississippi, was grander than most. The Moretons, my wife’s maternal family, used the occasion to honor “The Threes” — their affectionate name for the third generation down from Big Papa.

Big Papa is the larger-than-life lumberman, banker, philanthropist, and family patriarch who established the Moreton family legacy in the first half of the 20th century. Though he’s been gone for over 50 years, in reality he lives on. He personifies the truth of an old Native American saying: “As long as somebody is still telling your story, you’re really still alive.”                
Besides the family connection, I have a professional interest in legacy success stories like the Moretons’. Our high-net-worth planning team works with parents and grandparents who love their children and grandchildren and who wish to pass on a lasting legacy of values and virtues to them and to generations yet unborn.                

One of the tools we use in this process is the Legacy Circle. We have seen that successful legacy families implement the principles imbedded in the Legacy Circle. Big Papa and his descendants did just that many decades before the Legacy Circle was ever created.                
The Legacy Circle

At its heart, the Legacy Circle teaches that a successful legacy family has a shared set of family stories and a shared vision. Who and what a family is will be determined more by the stories it tells about itself and the way it sees its collective future than by any other factor. The thrust of its stories and vision determine the direction of a family’s destiny.                
The Legacy Circle teaches that a successful legacy family focuses on the people they love and the causes they support. These must be wisely balanced, with equal parts inward attention and outward concern. There must be a commitment to care for themselves along with a mission to look to the needs of others. A successful legacy family recognizes that too much attention to its own gratification results in generations of self-absorbed navel-gazers, while concern only for outsiders leaves family members’ own needs unaddressed. Balance is essential.
The Legacy Circle teaches that the parents and grandparents of successful families leave a well-rounded legacy consisting of four major components woven skillfully and seamlessly together. These four components include a compilation of life lessons, including the values, principles, and wisdom that make us who we are; directions, wishes, and instructions for loved ones concerning the end of life and beyond; personal treasures such as photographs and keepsakes that help to tell the stories of family members; and financial wealth.                
If any of these four components is left standing apart from the other three and unconnected to the core values found in the center of the Legacy Circle, it has a limited impact in blessing the lives of future generations.                
Of particular note is the Financial Wealth quadrant. If inherited money is not integrated into a well-rounded legacy, it seldom creates lasting value for the inheritors, notwithstanding the most benevolent of intentions. It is either dissipated in short order or it robs the recipient of incentive and self-sufficiency, leaving arrested development and disrupted lives in its wake.                
At the annual Pig Pickin’ and through the years, I’ve heard tales of how Big Papa’s courage and audacity saved Brookhaven Bank during the Depression, of how family members “took in” children of deceased siblings, of how the thirteen cousins later known as “The Threes” grew up in a cluster of neighboring houses with open door policies, where aunts and uncles took as much interest in their well-being as their own parents.                
I’ve witnessed vigorous but respectful discussions about where the family enterprise is headed or should be heading. I’ve seen that enterprise adjusted over the years as the family situation changed and outside conditions shifted. These stories and vision discussions were part of teaching the upcoming “Fours,” “Fives” and ”Sixes” what it means “to be a Moreton” and setting the stage for the future success of the extended family.                
I find it of particular interest that members of the family actually refer to themselves in legacy terms, i.e., as “The Threes,” “The Fours,” and so forth. It cements in their minds and hearts the notion that they are part of something bigger than themselves, something that had its roots before they came along, and something that must still be here after they have passed on.                
The regular gatherings of Big Papa’s clan are a robust mix of family business and family pleasure, along with a healthy dollop of honoring Big Papa and Big Mama’s community service and philanthropic wishes. Giving back and taking in are well balanced. Responsibilities are accepted and carried out. Expressions of love and appreciation flow freely. As a result, family members are uplifted and encouraged.                
Big Papa had the foresight to establish for his descendants an ongoing family enterprise that would bring them back together often. This in turn has served to foster the preservation of life lessons, final instructions, and personal treasures. He also endowed this enterprise with sufficient financial resources to bring life and energy to the other facets of the family legacy.                
As an observer and facilitator of successful legacy families, it was delightful to study one at very close range and recognize the far-sightedness of its founder long ago. It was affirming and reassuring to see that the principles I teach today to aspiring legacy families were implemented many, many decades ago by a wise and visionary patriarch and matriarch and then perpetuated through the years by their equally insightful children and grandchildren.                
Big Papa, what a legacy you left for your posterity!                
That, and a deep love for family, feasts, and fun.

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