I recently read a wonderful story in The Republic by Lori McDonald about 94-year-old Columbus resident Kenneth Ritz finally receiving his high school diploma from Seymour after entering the Navy in 1944 between his junior and senior year.

He married his high school sweetheart, Carole Bohall, returned and started a family -- one that has grown considerably over the years. While reading, I noticed a familiar Hope name, his daughter, Joyce Dempsey.

I had the pleasure of working with Joyce's sons and two of Mr. Ritz's grandchildren, Tim and Andy, in fifth grade. Not long ago, I cut out a short article from The Republic recognizing one of Joyce's grandchildren and one of Mr. Ritz's great-grandchildren, Hope Elementary student Ava Dempsey, for winning the American Legion Flag Education test through Hope Post 229 as well as another Hope Elementary student, Avery Staggs.

Then, it brought back memories of working with my 1993 fifth grade class on songwriting with the theme being leaders. Even though the name Jimmy Valvano never entered our discussion, I had two students, Andy Dempsey, father of Ava, and Chip Holmes, who, like many, were obviously inspired by him and who wrote the lyrics that I have kept all these years.

Jimmy Valvano coached the North Carolina State team that upset heavily favored Houston in the 1983 NCAA Tournament Finals. I watched that game on television as a North Carolina State shot fell short but into the hands of Lorenzo Charles who dunked it just before time expired for a 54-52 win. I still see Jimmy V jumping up and down in celebrating with his players.

In March of 1993, Jimmy Valvano won the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the first Excellence Sports Performance Yearly Award at Madison Square Garden presented by ESPN. While fighting cancer, he gave an inspiring speech which I have listened to several times. Following, you will find some of his powerful words, words that are very appropriate as we end one very challenging year:

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every single day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special.”

In his closing remarks, he then said, “Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind. It cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever. I thank you and God bless you all.”

The motto of The V Foundation for Cancer Research founded by Mr. Valvano and ESPN and announced that night is: “Don't give up, don't ever give up.”

Due to the coronavirus, Mr. Ritz's family can't gather to celebrate his very deserved high school diploma, one that he was actually promised after taking a course in the Navy. It just took a long time to process! While in the Navy, he learned how to cut hair on a ship and later became a licensed barber in Columbus on State Street for 45 years until retiring at the age of 70. Undoubtedly, he has seen and heard much in his lifetime, and I know he is proud of his 4 children, 10 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren, and 7 great-great grandchildren as they are also very proud of him. It is my understanding Mr. Ritz is receiving congratulations from a lot of people besides family, even some he has never met.

I suspect Kenneth Ritz could share a lot of stories including some very inspiring ones, and I suspect he also appreciates the wisdom in Jimmy Valvano's words. And, Mr. Ritz's story in a way is helping Jimmy V's words always live as well as the words of his grandchild, Andy Dempsey, and Andy's friend, Chip Holmes.

Note: Writing words from Jimmy Valvano's speech cannot compare to watching the video that is available online.  I would encourage you to view it now.