To Walter Egerton, success is measured not by the grades you make, or the awards you acquire, but by the lives you touch. A practicing physician in Bel Air, Maryland, his greatest joys in life are his two sons, his daughter, and his wife Deborah.
Walter grew up in a small North Carolina town, where his father served as Baptist minister for up to four congregations at one time. Ministers were in high demand at the time, and Walter’s father excelled at his job, leading many people to depend on him. While his busy schedule did not keep him from being a loving father and a devoted husband, he was unable in his short life to talk to his son Walter about what it means to be a man.
Walter was 16 when his father was diagnosed with stomach cancer, which at the time was very rare in African American men. He remembers feeling devastated at the news, but not shocked. “It’s a God thing,” he says. “You just can’t explain it in human terms.” Walter feels that in many ways he knew about his father’s disease far before it was medically diagnosed; he had made an internal discovery long before the thought of becoming a doctor had even occurred to him. In spite of this realization, the experience was still painful and emotionally numbing, and by the time a year had passed he felt completely lost. Forty-two years later the memory still brings him to a halt. “We survived,” he says. In some ways he feels that’s the only explanation he can offer.
Despite the academic intelligence he possessed, Walter says he was somewhat immature as a child. Unlike many of his male peers, he felt he was cheated of what he calls the “intangible tools you need to go forward as a successful man.” Like all of us, if it were up to him, his father would still be here. His father’s absence in his and his sibling’s lives often frustrates him. He wishes his father could see his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. The one thing that pacifies him, and what he says is the greatest gift his father ever gave him, is his faith.
One of his most vivid memories after his father’s death was roaming down the isles of the mega churches his father had preached at, and people saying to him, “You look just like your father!” Though their words were flattering, he would often reply, “I’m just trying to be half the man he was.” For a long time Walter found it difficult to see his father whenever he looked in the mirror. As time went on, however, he decided that instead of comparing, he would focus instead on the foundation that his father laid for him.
His father had instilled in him the importance of not only knowing what’s right, but practicing what you preach – something his father modeled throughout his life. Walter doesn’t worry about trying to be his father anymore, or even measuring up to him; instead he focuses on living in his legacy and maintaining his father’s values in his own life.
“It’s somewhat cliché, but it really is true, that tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us,” Walter says. He believes that the power life holds is in the relationships we build with the people in our lives, and keeping those we love close to us. Just as importantly, we must try to make the most of situations with the people we casually meet, or don’t really care for. As Walter says, “You never want to live in the regret that they’re not here anymore.”