I have been thinking about what to say about Herb Appel since his passing, understanding that my best efforts would immediately fall short of the measure of this man.
So in the Herb Appel way, I will get to the point and be economical with my words. To start off, Herb was a servant leader, he demanded excellence from everyone around him but none more than he expected of himself. There was something inspirational about him. He made you want to be a better person if not for yourself, to ensure you didn’t let him down. He had a quiet wisdom, perfected by faith, patience and a keen intellect that seemed to know how to balance the scales to bring parties together.
While I graduated with an economics degree in college and had 20 years of corporate experience, taking on the role of understudy at the GFBEDC was quite a ride. He was a master of his craft and his craft was making Fort Bend County a world class community for business and residents alike. He was the Northstar for many in the office and all those in his sphere of influence, not just for issues related to work and community but for questions about life, faith, fun and frivolity. He was a man’s man without arrogance or bravado. He embodied everything our organization holds dear, a love for community, quality, growth, opportunity, charity and among all, excellence. He was truly Fort Bend County’s statesman.
As Carolyn Martin, our long time office manager at the GFBEDC said, “When I think of Herb, the first thought that comes to mind is he was such a prayer warrior, for his church, community and all the people (family, friends, etc..) he cared about. He was always telling me of situations and/or people he would pray for and then share the answered prayer, regardless of the outcome. He would come in the office and always would ask me “what can I pray for you about today”. It was so very uplifting and I will never forget how strong Herb’s faith was and the huge heart that he had for people. Truly an amazing man.”
Jack Belt, the Executive VP for our organization put it this way: “Although he was phasing out as I was phasing in at the EDC, every day he never failed to come say hello, ask me how I was doing, how were my projects going, could he be of any help on anything or, did I need to talk to him about anything. He would offer to go to lunch if I needed the time with him. If I didn’t have anything, he would say “ok, if you change your mind, you know where I am”, and he wouldn’t push it or force his way into a conversation as if to check off a management technique scorecard, every day.
From day 1, he made sure that I knew he had confidence in me to get the job done on my own and that I knew when and how to ask for help if I needed it. As he went to a part-time schedule and than to a every now and then schedule and then to a once in a while schedule, he continued the same, every day.
So it wasn’t a specific or particular one time event that so deeply and quickly endeared Herb to me. Rather, it was an out of the starting gate connection he deliberately made with me, the consistent confidence in me, the sincere interest in me and what I was doing, and the in a straight-forward, simple, and highly effective periodic check, he would make sure that our lines of communication were always open—unfailing every time we crossed paths over a period of several years. Every time I saw him, he was the same Herb, every time.”
It became apparent early as I considered the words to share with you in this article that maybe the best way to demonstrate the type of man Herb was is not through my words but though his. Herb gave a commencement speech to the University of Houston-Victory Class of 2005. Rare wisdom one normally finds in the Old Testament or New Testament was so often his gift to others. I fondly call the following the Herb Testament. In typical fashion, almost everything you need to know about living life well is contained in the Herb Testament. Here it is in its entirety:
“This is the moment you have waited for and I know what you are thinking. On the day you entered the University you said to yourself if I work hard and pass all my exams I will be able to hear Herb Appel give the commencement address.
I have been invited to offer you a formula for success and happiness. Before I begin, I want to congratulate the class of January 2005. Today you are receiving the first of many rewards for patience, hard work, perseverance and academic achievement. From this day forward the mark of the Cougar is forever on you. I hope each of you will move forward with the courage and stamina of the cougar and the spirit of Texas.
This ceremony pays recognition to your academic achievement. The sorting has begun and you have come through. You have achieved a new academic rank within society. You have entered a door to a new, changing and challenging world which your teachers and parents and your personal achievements have opened for you. To whom much is given, much is expected. Your new status requires new responsibilities. I do not know what your destiny will be, but the ones among you who will find true happiness will be the ones whose trademark is service to others above self. I know those who love the work they choose will be happy and happiness is the key to successful living. Pick your work wisely, do not take a job you don’t want. If you find yourself in a job that is a drudge find work you can enjoy.
Success and happiness are also achieved through love. Surround yourself with people who love you. Take your time. Find the love of your life. Marry on the basis of intelligent choices, not solely on physical attraction. The body changes but the good heart, light spirit, loyalty and love of a good mate is much stronger and vital. Don’t misunderstand, a bit of lust for your mate is a wonderful thing. However, passion alone will not make for a lifetime of success and a happy marriage.
Success and happiness are achieved through character. Character is moral strength and reputation. Your parents, teachers and preachers have given you the right information about character but the final forming of your character lies squarely in your own hands. You have no one to blame for your outcome but yourself. Your life is largely the consequence of your choices. Perhaps part of your learning process has involved some lapses in character. If you learned from your mistakes, you can move on, if not, you are destined to repeat them. Listen to your conscience! Your conscience will guide you down the right path. It is in the individual mind that the battle for good over evil is won. Choose ‘good’ and you change the world for the better.
Choose evil and you make the world worse. We can change the world by winning the battle in the mind one good choice at a time. We are free right up to the moment of choice, and then the choice controls the chooser.
One choice you can make right now is to avoid greed.
Great examples of greed are everywhere. Would Martha Stewart be in jail if she had not been greedy? Would Enron be the corporate symbol for greed and corruption if Ken Lay and his managers had been persons of impeccable character? Do you believe Martha Stewart and Ken Lay are happy? Character flaws always bring successful people down and are as addictive as drugs. Can there be any question about the ultimate effect of drugs on character and happiness? Greed has the same effect.
What the world needs desperately is more character and morality, and less greed.
You will be successful and happy in service to others.
Who should you serve?
Serve your families, the one that exists and the one you create. You can serve family by setting a standard for “values”. You serve family by loving them enough to forego some personal whims for the sake of a family agenda. This establishes you as a leader. Some have had bad experiences within family. Resolve right now to do better with your own family – move forward and do not repeat the mistakes of the past.
Serve your friends – My friend Bill Hartman says – “A friend is someone who will not only come to your party but will show up to help at your flood.” To have a friend you must first be a friend. Help your friends and expect nothing in return. Everyone who comes to our party is not necessarily our friend but those who come to help at our flood are true friends.
Serve the elderly, disabled and the poor in wealth and spirit. Remember my test of character – “Do something good for someone who can not possibly do anything for you”.
You must also serve your God, country and community. The minimum standard for service to God is choosing good over evil, one choice at a time. The minimum standard for service to country and community is to understand the issues, assess the character of the candidate, and vote! Whether you like it or not you are about to become a taxpayer – by virtue of your degree you have been selected to become a member of the “haves” club. You “have” a responsibility to participate in the democratic process. You “have” to understand the issues and let your vote reflect your character.
The average longevity of the world’s democratic civilizations has been about 200 years. Most civilizations that fail follow this sequence:
From bondage to spiritual faith
From spiritual faith to great courage
From great courage to liberty
From liberty to abundance
From abundance to complacency
From complacency to apathy
From apathy to dependence and;
From dependence back into bondage!
Your responsibility to your country and your community is to avoid slipping into complacency and apathy. I submit that for democracy to work it must have informed pro-active citizens. Do not let apathy take our country to dependency.
Albert Einstein said “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil but because of those who look on and do nothing”.
Words in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. read: – “Thou shalt not be a victim; thou shalt not be a perpetrator, above all thou shalt not be a bystander.” To that I would add the words of Margaret Mead “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
Knowledge is your catalyst to open doors; action is the key.
I want to leave you with a final concept. The only thing certain in your life, for the rest of your life, is change. The only thing constant is change. To master change you must be a life-long learner.
Eric Hoffer said “In times of change, learners inherit the earth while “the learned” find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists”. As you experience changes thrust on you, and as you assume your new roll, take character and service to others and constant learning with you. I submit to you in the end we all end up at the same spot, dead. What matters is not who collects the most toys but who will hear the words from God, “Well done good and faithful servant.” The formula for success and happiness is personal character plus work you enjoy plus good marriage plus family plus friends plus service to God, country & community.
Good living, much success and happiness, to all of you.”
The scripture he quoted: Mathew 25:21 continues; ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Enter into the joy of the Lord”
What gets me through this loss is knowing that Herb merely got a promotion. We will miss him but look forward to seeing him again. Think what his talents can do in heaven.
Until I see you again dear friend.
President & CEO
Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council