Hope and Happiness by Christie Eckler
As I watch a friend wrap up the final moments of his life, I think of all the things we can learn from how he led his life helping others. The reason Happy Baggett, a local real estate developer and philanthropist, is ever present on our minds recently is that he was diagnosed with cancer this year and news has turned serious. With grace and humility, Happy is teaching us lessons through a life well lived.
I met Happy Baggett many years ago. I’d love to say it was one specific moment at one of his favorite restaurants, though I do not recall. What I do remember however, is immediately sensing that Happy was different.
Here’s how. Years ago, Happy invited me on a tour of his Renaissance Project – a project in one the toughest neighborhoods with one of the highest infant mortality rates at the time. During the tour, he started talking about the health needs of the children who the clinic was to serve, while speaking with intense emotion – we all witnessed the tears in his eyes. It was a profound moment for me to realize that a local, prominent businessman really understood what was needed to change lives and improve the health outcomes of children and families.
The next time I realized Happy was different was during the introduction of a colleague at one of his favorite restaurants. That colleague was Susan Wood who serves today as the founder and executive director of the Hope Center for Autism. Susan and Happy connected immediately and Happy evolved into her mentor and cheerleader. He fell in love with the mission of the Hope Center for Autism and the potential that Susan had as a leader. He was direct, tough, and loving and just what she needed at that time in her organization’s history.
Happy had a way of showing Susan how to engage others and bring them into the conservation of autism. Businessman like Happy don’t happen every day. He took such special care of Susan and really took the time to nurture and encourage her. I call Susan the “Child Whisperer” and if you ever see her around children with autism, you immediately understand. Children with autism respond positively in her presence. With Happy’s mentorship, Susan transformed from a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps founder to a warm, bold executive director leading her organization to its next level.
I write this in honor of a friend during a most courageous transition. Happy Baggett leaves a legacy with such dignity that we should all take notice. I also write this to encourage more men to mentor and foster female leaders, because it reaps more benefits than I can express in this article.