I was fortunate enough to be able to make it to the memorial ceremony in Weymouth for former Emerson Wrestling Coach Jim Peckham last summer. I was pleased, but hardly surprised by the large turnout. The funeral home was overflowing with people wishing to celebrate a most extraordinary life.
There were certainly tears shed by most in attendance, but there were many more smiles and nodding of heads as a steady stream of people stepped to the front of the main room to share remembrances of a man who had touched their lives. There were former student-athletes from Emerson, people from the college who had worked with him, and people who knew him as Coach, Dad, Grampa or friend.
Most of the stories and anecdotes had memories of his humor, philosophy, but most importantly, his humanity. He was a man of immense humanity. There were stories of how he invited people into his home, gave them money, even if he had little more than they did, or simply listened to them with a keen and sincere interest in whatever it was they had to say.
The stories offered by former wrestlers that day contained the same themes, but more importantly, the same beliefs and principles taught by Coach Peckham, as he was teaching arm bars and half nelsons. He spoke with knowledge, and eloquence of the Greeks and Romans and often used examples from those civilizations in his pre-match talks to his wrestling teams. He seldom raised his voice, and never motivated with stock phrases. Instead, he used stories of the ancients, and those not so ancient, to inspire us to believe in ourselves and strive to achieve beyond what we thought was possible for each of us.
The stories always had a moral and enforced his strong beliefs in the virtues of commitment, sacrifice, loyalty and respect. He taught us all the importance of respect. Respect for your opponent, and others you encounter, and respect for yourself.
Emerson has certainly produced many outstanding Alumni and has been home to brilliant and accomplished permanent and visiting members of the faculty. Jim Peckham was as accomplished and as highly acclaimed in his field as any member of the Emerson family. His influence upon generations of Emersonians and those we will encounter and influence will be his most lasting legacy and something to be celebrated by the college and all those who knew him.
If you look hard enough, you can find good in almost anyone and sometimes you find greatness right in front of you.