10 Reasons I Wish George Washington Were Still Alive (Part 2)
To commemorate Presidents Day and Washington’s Birthday, last week I highlighted the first four of the top 10 reasons I wish George Washington were still alive:
10) Washington was a role model for many, even as a youth.
9) Washington epitomized courage.
8) Washington wasn’t afraid of public opinion or challenging the status quo.
7) Washington was a man of integrity and character yet just as human as the rest of us.
Here are a few more of the reasons I wish Washington were still alive and why I believe the model of his life is still worthy to shadow today (These are also the reasons I cited in my New York Times best-seller “Black Belt Patriotism,” which has an expanded paperback edition.)
6) Washington was a first-class servant leader who walked what he talked. He believed so firmly in our newly founded but poor republic that he took no pay for his service during the Revolutionary War (besides official expenses). And after eight long years of leading the war and retiring to his peaceful estate at Mount Vernon, he re-enlisted rather than stay retired. It is amazingly commendable — if not astonishing — that Washington came out of military retirement to serve two terms as president. He even had to borrow money to pay off debts and travel to his own inauguration.
5) Washington didn’t allow personal obstacles to hinder his service to God, his country and his family. Among other sicknesses, according to Fox News, beginning at the age of 17, Washington suffered multiple malaria attacks throughout his life. He even had a case of smallpox and dysentery and struggled with depression and hearing loss.
In 1779, during the middle of the Revolutionary War, Washington “feared for his survival,” not from bullets but from an abscess of the tonsils. And after all he had been through, at 57 years old, with his war-torn body and reportedly only a single real tooth in his mouth, Washington left behind the comfort of his estate on the edge of the Potomac River and traveled eight days to New York, where he was sworn in as president.
4) Washington was a devoted family man. In 1759, at 26 years of age, Washington married widow Martha Dandridge Custis. Though Martha and George had no children, he adopted her daughter and son from her former marriage. They also provided personal and financial support to nephews, nieces and other extended family members.
If it’s true that behind every great man is a great woman (and it is, as evidenced by my wife, Gena, who does more for me and others than the world will ever know), then Washington’s wife, Martha, is definitely to be credited for part of the power behind the myth of the Father of Our Country. For example, for each of the eight years of the Revolutionary War, Martha came to Washington’s winter encampments (including Valley Forge) to boost his morale, as well as the other officers’ morale.
No doubt Martha’s initial struggle to support Washington’s departure as president must have had some emotional connection to her finally having him home at Mount Vernon after his service in the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention and his eight years of leading the war. Though Martha refused to attend his inauguration, she stood by her man by living with him at the temporary U.S. capitals New York and Philadelphia.
Though Martha and George had a strong relationship, there’s no doubt he had a lifelong love interest in the beautiful and intellectually astute Sally Fairfax — the wife of his friend George William Fairfax — whom he met when he was just 16. Sally’s father never would have allowed her to marry someone other than a man from a wealthy family like theirs, and Washington didn’t fit the bill.
Mount Vernon historians noted how Sally “remained ever faithful to her marriage” yet a good friend of the Washingtons’. In 1773, she moved with her husband to England, where he died in 1787. In 1798, just a year before Washington’s death, he wrote to Sally, urging her to return to Virginia. He added, “(Nothing has) been able to eradicate from my mind the recollection of those happy moments, the happiest in my life, which I have enjoyed in your company.” Sally never returned and died alone in England in 1811.
No man is perfect, and that included George Washington. He himself confessed: “We must take human nature as we find it. Perfection falls not to the share of mortals.” Remembering that was likely the key to his humility, service and mercy to others. Maybe his own struggle to receive the Holy Eucharist when he attended services at an Anglican church was born from his wrestling with his own humanity and possibly even the human toll that incurred when he was leading the war.
George was married to Martha for roughly 40 years. Just before her death in 1802, Martha destroyed nearly all of Washington’s letters to her, though three did survive.
Next week, I will finish my top 10 and discuss how some people today view Washington as yesteryear’s presidential billionaire mogul. For more on the monumental figure, I recommend the amazing book “George Washington’s Sacred Fire,” by Peter Lillback and Jerry Newcombe.:
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