How do you measure “a life well lived?” The passing of my friend and fellow motorcycle rider, Charlie O’Dell, made me ponder this question as I mowed the grass around my blueberry patch. I imagined his was “a life well lived,” but it took me a while to articulate it.
Charlie passed away un-expectedly but peacefully at his home on September 4; he was 82. He was a horticulture specialist who worked for the USDA before coming to Virginia Tech in 1968. He was a fruit and berry specialist who did extension advising, research, and teaching throughout the state. He was also a columnist for American Fruit Grower and Western Fruit Grower magazines for 34 years, which brought him wide acclaim as a berry expert throughout the country. Charlie retired as Professor Emeritus from Virginia Tech in 2001 to spend more time at home on his farm and enjoy his hobbies and other interests.
I began my work at Virginia Tech in the College of Agriculture where Charlie was employed, which gave me the opportunity to interact with him professionally from time to time. Then during blueberry season my family would go to Crow’s Nest Farm and Plant Nursery that he and his wife Wilmoth had founded and operated. Charlie was always around making sure you were finding the biggest and most berries and that you were having a good time picking them. But it wasn’t until I joined the local motorcycle riders group of which Charlie was already a participant that I really got to know him personally.
Over breakfast on Saturday mornings we talked about Virginia Tech, gardening, camping, family, fishing and other common interests and hobbies. And we spent an inordinate amount of time talking about blueberries. I had 20 bushes in my garden that weren’t doing that well; I knew Charlie was the expert. I was needing some advice on how to further acidify the soil around my plants. He gave me the formula then offered to give me the fertilizer materials that would do the job; it seems that he had plenty left over from his own use. I heard from others as well that this was his nature; he always gave free his time and talent, and, if you needed it, “the shirt off his back.”
His obituary in The Roanoke Times reminded us of his character and talent: He was a family man with a wife of 60+ years, two daughters and five grandchildren; he was a man of deep faith dedicated to his church and a choir member; he was admired by many for his kind-heartedness, his compassion, and forever striving to make the world a better place. And at the end, for the benefit of mankind after his death, he willed his remains to medical science.
Today, measures of a successful life might include monetary wealth, public acclaim, knowing famous people, being well traveled, and having lots of Facebook friends. I would not use any of these to measure how well Charlie lived. What I know is that he had a long, healthy, happy life. He loved his wife and family, his work, and his church. He was a kind man of impeccable character, magnanimous in his dealing with all he encountered. He was a motorcycle rider. Because he was who he was, we all loved him back. This is why I think his was “a life well lived.”
We miss you Mr. Blueberry Man
C C Cedras said:
A beautiful tribute, Jim. If Charlie’s life can also be estimated by the quality of friendships he enjoyed, he was truly blessed. My condolences to you on this loss.
Sadie Harpenau said:
Sounds like a wonderful man, and friend. I know you will miss him, as will all of the other people whose lives he touched. Truly a life well lived.