The older gentleman walked up to me in the crowded room. He stuck out his hand and I shook it. After calling out my name, he asked me if I remembered the “grip”. I instantly knew what he was talking about; the somewhat secret handshake that members of my college fraternity share with each other worldwide.
Initially, it did not occur to me that he had seen my name on the nametag I was wearing. I was wondering where he knew me from. Was he in the fraternity before me? Did I know him from somewhere else?
J. R. “Ridley” Parrish was his name. He mentioned a couple of names that I did not recall. Then he mentioned Fob James, the former Governor of Alabama, who grew up in my father’s neighborhood. It was then that I realized that Ridley had me confused with my father, who was also a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity.
Sure enough, Ridley graduated in 1954, the year I was born. You would never know it by his youthful looks and personality. My Dad was two years older but they apparently knew each other well.
It was a joy to talk to someone who knew my father in his college days. We were clearly enjoying the conversation when I asked him where he was lived. Winder, Georgia was his answer.
I only had one friend from my Auburn days from Winder. For years, Mary Lou and I would mention her name whenever we saw anything related to the city of Winder.
I somehow knew the answer before I asked the question. I asked if he was related to Keigh Parrish from Winder, Georgia. “She’s my daughter” he replied. “In fact, she is here tonight”.
So that is how I came to meet an old college friend more than 40 years after graduation. As she walked up, her smile was just as warm and engaging as I remembered. She had certainly aged better than I had over these years.
As we departed, Ridley Parrish, Class of 1954, gave me a big hug. “Your father was a true gentleman” he said and once again I knew what he meant. “The True Gentleman” is the creed of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. It is the highest compliment that one brother can give another.
“The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety,
and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power,
or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity
and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others,
rather than his own; and who appears well in any company,
a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.”
– John Walter Wayland
Seventeen years after my father passed away, I had the opportunity to share the bond of the memory of my father with one of his own contemporaries. As I read the True Gentleman again, I am reminded of how accurately it describes “Big Dan”. One day, I hope my children will say the same about me.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org