Week of events put a face on GRs quality of life

July 15, 2011
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These warm mid-July days are threaded with annual and quarterly reports collectively reflecting regional business operations and giving evidence of continued, steady gains in the local economy. Perhaps the highlight of these was reported by Amway, which marked the first time in its history in which sales hit $1 billion in just one month (June).

These successes, however, do not provide a complete picture of this region, nor the “quality of life” so important to the retention and recruitment of an educated and skilled labor force.

The quality of life in this metro area was defined especially in the last week, not by “chamber of commerce” weather, statistics from The Right Place or an energetic lip dub sent ’round the world. It was precisely defined by funerals — many funerals. Each of them framed the people of this place and the treasure of a quality of life noted but often taken for granted.

In this past week, community members from Rockford to Wyoming and beyond attended community vigils and the funerals of seven people whom the community came to know as the victims of the city’s worst mass murder. The July 7 deaths were at the hand of one man, whose parents also received the condolences and prayers of community members.

The series of events that day led police to two crime scenes, a chase on the city’s two major freeways and a long night in which three hostages calmly, according to police, sat through negotiations ending with the suspect’s suicide, an ordeal ending near midnight. The following day, city residents left messages chalked on the sidewalk in front of the Grand Rapids Police Department simply stating, “thank you.” That alone would have defined this place with an act unduplicated in the world.

By nightfall July 8, Grand Rapids learned its most famous daughter, former first lady Betty Ford, had died in California. Her July 13 repose in Grand Rapids began only hours after the first funeral for one slain family, and hours before a previously planned “community healing” service in the neighborhood of the murder victims, attended by more than 200 people.

Such events “walk the talk” of the community’s quality of life. So, too, did the life of Mrs. Ford.

Historian Richard Norton Smith delivered one of several eulogies for Mrs. Ford July 14, and said in part while recalling her public disclosures of breast cancer and then substance abuse, she “distinguished vulnerability from weakness … her face was not one of disease but recovery.”

Throughout the events of the week, Mayor George Heartwell truly led the community with his courage, compassion and eloquent words. In his prayer, as Mrs. Ford’s body laid in repose at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Heartwell said she had “called us all to healing. We are better people.”

President and Mrs. Ford, rest in peace. The community you loved, for the reasons you loved it, is evergreen.

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