As a child, I could never understand why my parents would turn the radio up for the obituaries during dinnertime, with a stern admonition from my mother to remain quiet.

How morbid, I thought then, but as I’ve gotten older my natural instincts have taught me it wasn’t so morbid after all, and it’s something I pay attention to nowadays.

The majority of my parents’ generation have gone to meet their maker, and tragically enough, many far younger than I have left this earth.

I lived in Richmond for over 20 years, and when I scan the obituary section in the Richmond newspaper, I wonder if I had contact with that person, perhaps passed him or her on the street.

What pearls of wisdom did I miss by not knowing that person, and what insights did I not experience?

I used to say that if you put 10 of my best friends so far in life in one room, you’d have the greatest cross section of personalities one could imagine, wealthy and not so wealthy, lucky in life and not so lucky.

I’ve come to realize that just about everyone has something to offer everyone else, and I can sympathize with the ones who don’t, because each human being is special unto himself or herself.

I recall the film, “Good Will Hunting,” where a blue collar working person with an unrecognized talent for mathematics has that talent discovered through sessions with therapists and teachers.

That talent may not have been discovered if not for his committing a crime, and with the court deferring his case in order to get therapy and follow other orders of the court.

I also think about the film, “Hidden Figures,” where I learned something about NASA and the space race I hadn’t known about before, and that coming from a science fiction nut.

I learned that many of the complex mathematical formulas used to win the race to the moon were the result of computations of African-American women.

“Hidden Figures” is based on a true story, and “Good Will Hunting” is not, but the gist of my takeaway from both films is we all have something to contribute to the world, whether some of us want to accept it or not.

The mechanic with soiled coveralls, the dry wall contractor, the asphalt paver sweating in the hot sun and the welder all have as much to offer as the stockbroker or the physician, albeit in their own way.

That font of rural wisdom, “The Andy Griffith Show,” had an episode entitled, “Man in a Hurry,” where a businessman, trapped overnight in Mayberry when his car became disabled, learned to take life more at leisure and discovered what he thought were simply rubes had much more to offer than he originally thought.

I never know whom I will come in contact with on a daily basis, and I truly never know what they have to offer, unless I give a nod and greet them.

Some of us maybe are in a rush and having a bad day, and I recognize and respect that, but a congenial conversation goes a long way toward finding out something I never knew before.

One never knows what one is capable of until you look for it.

Doug Ford reports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at

Doug Ford covers news and sports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at