Not long ago, someone took a poll to see who are America’s heroes. Echoing our President’s much-ridiculed choice, Jesus Christ topped the list. I was thankful for that for no one else deserves to be on the same list with our Lord and Savior. He stands alone on a list of one.
At another level – the human one – there were others. Martin Luther King Jr. and Colin Powell were next on the list. For advancing the cause of African-Americans in this country, King certainly deserves to be somewhere on that list. Despite his personal character flaws, he led the charge against the forces of bigotry at a time when America should long ago have jettisoned racism.
Colin Powell’s legacy is yet to be written. I am watching closely how he handles the situation in Israel.
John F. Kennedy, Mother Theresa, Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, John Wayne, Michael Jordan and Bill Clinton also made the cut. You be the judge of who’s a hero on that list, and who’s not. I’ll accept Mother Theresa, Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln, but none of the others.
My Own Personal Hero
I can think of many public figures I’ve admired down through the years. Winston Churchill would certainly be near the top of my personal list. Most of the great figures of the Bible would be on it, especially Abraham, David, Hosea, Josiah, Daniel, Nehemiah, Ezra, Peter, John, James and the apostle Paul; John the Baptist too. The soldiers who have, down through decades, fought and given their lives to resist the twin evils of Nazism and Communism would all be on my list. Anyone who fights tyranny and authoritarianism is a hero to me. George Washington should certainly be near the top of any right thinking person’s list. The Jews of the Holocaust, and people like Raul Wallenberg, Corrie Ten Boom and Schindler would have a prominent place on it.
My own father, John Irving Knowles, would appear on my list too. He spent seven long years in the engine rooms of destroyers, frigates and minesweepers, plowing across the Atlantic on convoy duty while Hitler’s U-boats prowled the heaving seas. He watched helplessly as comrades in arms met gruesome deaths in the oil fires generated by their own torpedoed ships. They either drowned, or burned to death in the sea. To stop and pick up the wounded was certain death for any ship that found itself in the midst of a pack of German subs. The best they could do was throw life buoys in the sea and hope that the floaters found them. Dad served twenty-three years in the Royal Canadian Navy and retired with the rank of Commander. He was a credit to his country.
My No. 1 personal hero is my own grandfather, Dr. William Boland Ripley Knowles. While my father was on duty with the Atlantic fleet, he was retired in North Vancouver, British Columbia. My mother didn’t want me, so I was consigned to a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. To my 65-year old grandfather, that was unconscionable. He made arrangements to take me in. He, my grandmother, and my aunt, continued to take care of me as a collective parent until my grandfather was 73 years old. At that time, my father had found a new wife and was willing to attempt to be a father to me.
As a child, my grandfather imparted to me his Victorian values and his old-fashioned integrity. He filled my mind with Rudyard Kipling stories: The Jungle Book, Puck of Pook’s Hill, and Kim. Once I was in school, he tried to help me understand books like Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlisle. It was incomprehensible to me. At age 6, a speculative discussion of creeds and systems of philosophy under the guise of a philosophy of clothes was simply beyond my intellectual range. But he believed in stretching me. He’d remind me that the whole thing – a multi-volume work – had been written by hand. I credit my grandfather for making me into a bookworm, and though I have a graduate degree, I can honestly say I’ve learned far more from books than I ever learned in a classroom.
Living His Beliefs
My grandfather took me on his long walks with him, first in a pram, later on foot. He walked an average of five miles a day until he was in his late nineties. He never overate, and I never saw him take a drink of alcohol. He practiced everything he preached and he was the most honest man I’ve ever known. He was also a lay preacher in the Anglican Church and he knew his Bible well. I still have it, and his marginal notes are still highly enlightening to me.
He taught me that the most important question in the world to ask was, “Why?”
William Knowles, as a British soldier, fought in the Boer War, along with his brother, Harry Knowles. Then the two of them fought in the First World War against the Kaiser. Granddad was a small, wiry, athletic man, who swam with ease across the Harbor in Valetta, Malta. In retirement, he kept in shape gardening and walking. His outlook was positive and matter-of-fact. Life was cause & effect, and that was all there was to it. Do the right thing and the effects will be positive. Do the wrong thing and they’ll be the opposite.
He saved his pennies too. When I was first married, he wrote me a check for $450. It was from the pennies he’d saved for me from the day I was born. We used the money to furnish our tiny three-room apartment. (Note Proverbs 13:22 in this regard.)
Granddad came from the second-to-last great generation. My father came from the last. Granddad died in 1974 in his hundredth year. Right living paid off. He lived a life that was chock full of good works. Throughout his century on the earth, he remained true to his principles. He was a good husband to his wife, Ada, and a good father to his two daughters and son. To me, he was the greatest grandfather a boy could ever have. He is, as the Jews say, a man of blessed memory – my own personal hero.