This post is different. It’s not so much about influence as it is a tribute to a good friend – Tracy Austin – who is battling pancreatic cancer. The cancer is winning the battle against Tracy’s flesh but not his spirit. It seems as though cancer may take his life soon but cancer is not the victor because Tracy’s spirit cannot be destroyed. His life will go on because of the thousands of people he’s impacted. In turn, those people will impact tens of thousands more, and so on. It occurs to me that in the same way that cancer spreads and takes lives, Tracy’s impact will spread and inspire richer, fuller lives!
I met Tracy Austin in 2004 through Robert Cialdini. Dr. Cialdini was a keynote speaker at several State Auto Insurance events that summer and Tracy came to hear him. He was the guest of the late Dr. Paul Otte, State Auto board member and past president of Franklin University.
Tracy’s association with Franklin University began in the early 1990s as a student. His experience was so good he wanted to give back and ended up working there. In his 20+ years with the university he impacted thousands upon thousands of students and faculty members.
If you know Tracy then you’re his friend, because he’s one of those rare people for whom it cannot be any other way. You can’t know Tracy and not like him. And I’m sure he never met anyone whom he didn’t consider a friend. That’s just who he is.
Our friendship began with that initial meeting in the summer of 2004 and manifested itself over lunches every two or three months from that point forward. We were both creatures of habit so nearly every lunch was on a barstool at Club 185 in the German Village section of Columbus, Ohio. During those meals we talked about leadership, training, public speaking, coaching and family.
Tracy was well known around town because he would wear a nametag with a random word each day. Actually, the words were never random. Rather, they were carefully chosen because each word was a public statement of Tracy’s attitude for the day. As you might imagine, they were often conversation starters, too. Nametags were his thing and everyone knew that.
Tracy retired from Franklin a year ago and because he was no longer working downtown, we missed a few lunches. Near the end of October Tracy posted on Facebook that he had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer.
I’ve had other friends go through cancer, but for whatever reason felt compelled to do something more for Tracy. I immediately went to the store, and bought 100 nametags. I sat down with my daughter, Abigail, and together we came up with 50 positive words. I filled out one set for me and one set for Tracy which I mailed to him. Each day I texted him in the early morning to let him know the word for that day and we’d both wear that nametag. We also posted to Facebook and people started to follow his journey in the fight against cancer.
Wearing the nametags has been interesting. I was often surprised at how few people would comment when I was wearing a word like Prayerful, Embrace, Joyful, etc. When the conversations did happen they were always encouraging and I would simply ask, “If you think of Tracy please say a prayer for him.”
Beyond our direct friendship a series of wonderful things happened for me because of Tracy. After meeting him, I met Marcy Depew at a coaching event Tracy led. Marcy and I struck up a friendship that’s included many coffee and lunch conversations.
Marcy introduced me to Merri Bame. Merri and I hit it off because we both train in the field of communication. As you might imagine a friendship ensued and we’ve enjoyed many coffee and lunches together, too.
Merri introduced me to Amanda Thomas McMeans. Amanda asked me to speak at a quarterly networking event she hosted. After speaking I attended one of her events as a guest and met a young man named Dan Stover.
Dan and I struck up a deep friendship that has included Dan spending some holidays with my family. Eventually Dan introduced me to Steve Anderson, the founder of Integrated Leadership Systems (ILS), the company Dan works for. Meeting Steve led to a sales consulting opportunity for me but more importantly, ILS ended up hiring my wife, Jane, to help secure speaking engagements. Working there has truly been life-changing for Jane.
It’s very likely that none of those good things and friendships would have happened had I not met Tracy. I have no doubt that hundreds, if not thousands, of people could share similar stories about Tracy’s impact on their life.
We would all be fortunate not only to have the kind of impact Tracy has had but to be as loved as he is. Whenever the day comes and he passes, it will indeed be sad for all of us who will not see his smile, hear his laugh or be lifted up by his word of the day. But, if we take what Tracy has given us and pass it along we will multiply his goodness and cancer will be the only loser.
I opened by saying this wasn’t so much about influence as it was a tribute. As I conclude I know it’s actually both, because as I’ve written and you’ve read there’s no doubt about Tracy’s influence on so many of us. The best tribute we can give Tracy and his wife, Karen, is to take the lessons of his life and pay them forward.