I’ve known Antonio for almost 30 years. We worked together at both of the only two places I was ever employed, although technically speaking he worked for me. I mention the distinction to illustrate that when I went to work for the company from which I would eventually retire, I asked Antonio to join me there. He was then, and still is to this day, one of the finest employees I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Notice the word I used to end the previous sentence; I have always worked with my fellow employees. I never could get used to the concept of being a ‘boss;’ I preferred to think of us all—manager, supervisor, lift operator, material handler, stock keeper—as ‘teammates,’ all working towards a common goal. I have never met a finer example of a teammate than Antonio.
Antonio and I played on the company’s championship volleyball team when we were both a lot younger than we are now. It wasn’t until several years ago that Antonio finally took me up on my offer to join me for a run. Once he did, he never stopped. In April of 2016 he completed his first two-mile run—a goal I thought was a good starting point for him; by the end of the month he was already up to six miles. On days we didn’t run together, he would text me the statistics of his run, and I would mention he was well ahead of the curve. He always ended with the same comment: ‘I want to make you proud.’ Six months later Antonio was up to 100 miles, and I’m not talking cumulatively. On the third weekend of October in 2016, Antonio ran 100 miles in a 60-hour road race I put on in Senoia. I couldn’t have been prouder, in all probability the biggest understatement I’ve ever made.
When I retired two years later Antonio was promoted into a leadership role that I had encouraged him to seek many years prior; at that time he didn’t think he was ready, but I knew better. He proved to be as equally impressive as a leader as he was as a runner. He communicated with me regularly to let me know how his department was doing, and I would always reply that the things his team was doing under his leadership were outstanding. His reply was always the same: ‘I want to make you proud.’
We’ve run together on weekends ever since. During those three hours of ‘asphalt therapy,’ we take the time to catch each other up on our respective lives. It may sound cliché but it’s true: Antonio is my brother from another mother. Not only that, he’s also as one of the finest men I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. A man when he calls you his friend, you know he really means it and that it comes from the bottom of his heart.
Antonio’s mother passed away recently, shortly after her 67th birthday. While I never had the pleasure of meeting her in person, I had the honor of attending her Homecoming Service at the Lilly Hill Baptist Church in Decatur. During the course of the gathering I learned of her life through the testimonies of numerous friends and family members, to the point that I felt like I had known her all of my life. The family she left behind—three sons, one daughter, 15 grandchildren and five great grandchildren all were seated in several pews at the front of the church. As a pallbearer, I had the privilege of sitting at the front, just to the left of where the family was sitting. As the microphone passed from one speaker to the next, I could tell from the looks on all of their faces—friends and family alike—that Antonio’s mother was a treasure; that she was loved.
The Pastor said it best. As he delivered the eulogy he mentioned that as he spoke, his mother was on the pulpit standing next to him. So was his father, as well as his grandparents. The Pastor said he was the man he was today because of the people in his life all playing a part in making him that way. He then turned his attention to the pews at the front of the church and said that all of them were who they were because of the influence that their mother, grandmother, or great grandmother had on their lives. I thought to myself that if all of them had the same qualities as Antonio, there’s no doubt her entire family made Agnes Walker proud.
When Antonio first told me his mother had passed I sent him something I wrote shortly after my parents were gone, a short story titled ‘Just Fine.’ The premise was that I was able to find comfort in knowing that before my parents were gone, they were confident they had given their children the tools they would need to be just fine in the years ahead.
Antonio has a loving, caring, and supportive wife, children that I have no doubt are well on their way to being just fine, and a grandson that simply adores him.
Deep down I believe I’ve always known Agnes Walker. If not my entire life, at least for the past 30 years.