The Blog

Living Every Day

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

"Live every day as if it were your last because someday you're going to be right." -- Muhammad Ali

Just over three years ago, a large man with a broad smile and easy manner approached me during a job interview in Richmond, Kentucky, and told me we had something in common. I had no idea what he was talking about until he exclaimed: "We both blog on The Huffington Post!" His name was Don McNay, and that first encounter led to our becoming fast friends as I became president of Don's alma mater, Eastern Kentucky University, a few weeks later.

A few days ago, Don died unexpectedly during a visit to family in New Orleans. He was 57 years old.

This was after Don, a prolific writer and renowned expert on financial planning and structured settlements, lost over 100 pounds. He chronicled his commitment to a healthier lifestyle -which culminated in a recently completed 5K race in Lexington -- in his book, "Brand New Man: My Weight Loss Journey."

During funeral services for Don, many recalled his broad reach and extensive circle of friends noting that he "never met a stranger."

On average, nearly 150,000 people die every single day around the world. Among these tens of thousands, nearly all of whom will remain unknown to most of us, it seems as if we have lost some we thought would be among us forever.

Last summer, I attended probably the greatest concert I have ever enjoyed and soaked up all the songs I grew up on, performed by the best-selling American rock band in history: the Eagles. To think it was the second-to-last public appearance with the Eagles for Glenn Frey was the furthest thing from the minds of the thousands of loyal fans who packed Rupp Arena. My friends and I left the performance that night completely flabbergasted by how good the Eagles were live as evidenced by their unmatched musicianship. But less than a half-year later, one of the band's co-founders was dead of complications from pneumonia and arthritis. Glenn Frey was 67 years old.

A few weeks before Frey's death, I read the obituary of the last remaining survivor of President Harry S Truman's White House: advisor George Elsey who would later become president of the Red Cross. I interviewed Mr. Elsey first in 1994 and then again in 1997 while completing my book and other writings on our 33rd president. Never have I met a more gracious and accommodating gentleman than Mr. Elsey. For many years, Elsey embodied that last living link to my hero, Harry Truman, and his presidency which spanned so many critical years in our nation's and the world's history.

A few weeks later came the tragic passing of Prince, the multi-faceted musician whose work and impact seemed to transcend generations. His gifts were endlessly recounted by all who appreciated his unique brand of music. The man, known by one name and then a symbol and then back to his name, seemed to defy any sort of musical zeitgeist as his influence was felt by all types of performers regardless of their grouping or orientation. Prince Rogers Nelson was 57 at the time of his death.

When news that the "Greatest of All Time" had passed last week, all the tales of Muhammad Ali have flooded the airwaves and dominated the talk shows. To now live in Mr. Ali's home state of Kentucky has made the events of the past few days even more impactful. It reminded me of my days in Washington, D.C., as a lowly intern in the office of Senator Orrin Hatch. Late one fall afternoon, one of our office mates put out an urgent all call that "The Champ" was in the office to check on -- as Ali himself called Hatch -- his "favorite politician." We all hustled down to the Russell Senate Office Building to catch a glimpse of the man we had only read about or seen on TV. That Muhammad Ali, a devout Muslim, would request that Senator Hatch, a committed Mormon, to speak at his funeral service is evidence of Ali's global and ecumenical appeal.

Musicians, politicians, athletes, global figures -- the passing of these individuals whose lives and work are known the world over are often the ones who glean all the attention and grab all the headlines.

But when it happens close to home among one's circle of friends and family -- as was the case with our friend and colleague, Don McNay -- a profound sense of one's own mortality seems to strike with even more force and impact.

From these losses, however, comes a renewed vow to live every single day with a sense of urgency and commitment. My own religious faith affirms that what awaits me in the hereafter is directly impacted by what I chose to do with the time afforded me here on this earth and how I treat my fellow human beings. As I reflect on those who seem to pass all too quickly from this existence and the lives which they have positively impacted, I am even more motivated to make every single moment matter. To quote The Greatest of All Time: "Don't count the days; make the days count."