Sep. 4, 2001: What a difference a day makes.

I love my alma mater, the University of Georgia, but several issues have arisen recently that have bothered me and I felt like I couldn’t get anybody’s attention, despite the time and dollars I have given over the years. “Not to worry,” a UGA official assured me. “We’ll sit down and talk them over. We want you to be happy.” What a nice coincidence. I wanted to be happy, too. But, alas, happy turned into big-time unhappy in a hurry. On the day of our meeting, my designated hand-holder never showed. He had to confer with a heavy hitter politician and waited until an hour and a half after our scheduled appointment to so inform me. Now the institution had a bigger problem on its hands – an unhappy former president of the national alumni association who also happens to write columns for a living. So much for happy. But the next day, I attended a memorial for John Yauger and the whole issue became moot.

Dr. John Yauger was a warm and wonderful person who had a host of debilitating illnesses but never let them destroy his spirit. He was a retired physician, a member of my church and an avid reader of my musings. Every Sunday, I could count on him to give me a forthright evaluation of what I had said the previous week and some equally forthright suggestions on what to say next week.

What struck me about his memorial service was that there was little said about his professional accomplishments, significant though they were. Dr. Yauger had played a major role in getting citizens in metro Atlanta immunized against polio with the Sabin polio vaccine in the mid-1960’s. But as impressive as his career had been, it was his marvelous sense of humor, his love for people, and his devotion to his family that the speakers kept emphasizing. I looked at the gathered businessmen who had been members of his Boy Scout troop and who had applied his principles to their successful careers and thought that if we are put on earth to make a difference, John Yauger had succeeded with room to spare.

Dr. Yauger did a lot of big, important things in his career, but it was the seemingly small things that had everyone smiling and nodding and reflecting on this unique man’s life. It was like a wakeup call. After the service, I realized that my disagreements with the University of Georgia weren’t nearly as important as they had been when I arrived. What is important is that two of my grandsons have a new dog of undetermined pedigree named Sheila – have you ever heard of a dog named Sheila? – and are excited beyond words.

Cooling my heels for a no-show didn’t seem such a big deal any more, either. What is a big deal is that my other two grandsons are making all “A’s” at school. One is running track; the other is playing basketball and beating my brains out when we play Horse. (Don’t tell him but I am delighted.)

I thought about the hullabaloo over the redistricting silliness at the state capitol. Today, it seems totally irrelevant. What is relevant is having a family that loves a husband and father who too often placed his career concerns ahead of their concerns. I need to tell my son-in-law and daughter-in-law how much I care about them, too. They have been a part of the family for 17 years and I am grateful my kids were smart enough to marry them. I still wake up in a cold sweat thinking about who they could have married.

I am through fretting about the University of Georgia. They can handle their problems without me, which will be a great relief to us both. I have more pressing issues to deal with right now. As patriarch of the Yarbrough clan, I must officially welcome Shelia into the family before she can change her mind. Hound dogs are very discerning, you know. Once that is done, I need to challenge a certain grandson to one more game of Horse, knowing I have no chance of winning but relishing the competition.

Whether, like John Yauger, I leave this the world better off for my having been here depends on how I define what is important and what isn’t. Loving families and hound dogs are. Missed appointments are not.

It is called perspective and I found it just in time.