“Your Memories for this week ten years ago…,” was the subject of the email from Shutterfly. “Look what we found for you. Remember ten years ago?” In the email were pictures of Stan Lee and Dr. John (Jack) Templeton from the 2008 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal ceremony at the White House.
Ironically, earlier that week Stan Lee had passed away, and I had just attended the Templeton Prize ceremony at the National Cathedral awarded to King Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. I got the message. Both represent different but related aspects of faithful living and were influential in my life, and I should tell you why I am thankful for them.
I had the honor of nominating Stan for the National Medal, and actually convinced him to accept it. Consequently, I served as sherpa to Stan and his business partner Gil Champion for the few days they were in Washington. They didn’t want to carry the award on the plane, so I offered to ship it to them. “Take it, but don’t drop it,” Stan encouraged me. “You can’t trust two old men with it.” For a few days, it sat in my office until Stan’s email came in with the reminder, “You didn’t drop it, did you?”
I grew up on Silver Age Marvel, and had a soft spot for the Fantastic Four, but loved all the titles that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did together. Both were Jewish and had changed their last names, as did many of the pioneers in the New York based comic industry. I’ve written about Kirby’s exploration of “the Big Questions” through his titles at DC comics. Like Kirby, Stan was not religiously observant but deeply religiously formed.
Kirby’s art adorns my office walls. The character I loved the most was The Thing, who was probably one of the most explicitly Jewish characters Stan developed. Both Stan and Jack Kirby served in World War II: witnesses to the reality of evil, the vulnerability of the weak, the persecution of the Jewish people and the sanctity of the American Experiment. All which has deeply shaped them and their work.
There are few, if any, writers in the annals of American literature who have written or edited as many stories as Stan. I invited him to attend a gathering of culture investors at the Lobster in Santa Monica a few years after we met. He shared with us his two “great objects” – to address injustices like racism, and to promote literacy and reading.
For a few years I explored working with Stan and Gil on a literacy initiative, looking for a corporation to partner with Free Comic Day, along with the libraries and schools which participate. On his 89th birthday, out of frustration, I wrote Stan that we “need to get this done before your 100th birthday.”
“Well, you’ve got 11 years to go,” he wrote back. Sadly, we didn’t get it done. But perhaps we can in memory of his 100th.
A compassion for the common good and love for America also defined the life of Jack Templeton. I worked with him on a weekly basis for almost four years, often on 2+ hour phone calls. He was an old dog willing to learn new tricks, and actually underwrote a graphic novel that was published by, and with, dear friend Doug Tennapel, called Ratfist.
Jack wasn’t afraid to engage new media, even if we had to print out pages of Facebook posts for him to read. Although Jack was committed to the persuasive power of “unimpeachable facts,” he agreed that for a generation growing up with iPhones and 24/7 media content, story is a critical component of shaping the soul and pursuing the common good. We were about to engage with a feature film together when it was time for his Big Questions to get their final answer.
I wrote about Dr. Templeton after his passing and concluded: “I was honored to work with him on projects that expressed his love for others, country and God. But I was most affected by the love I heard and saw him express for his family, especially his wife, Pina. On the several occasions we were able to share a meal with Jack and Pina, my wife and I left saying to each other that this is the kind of intimacy, friendship, respect and love that we want to manifest when we are their age.”
Stan passed away just a little over a year after the death of his wife, Joan. I heard that his heart was broken and that he had lost a sense of purpose. Several weeks ago, Clapham hosted a gathering at AEI with policy experts from the right and the left to talk about the importance of marriage to economic mobility. I am thankful for Stan and the two Jacks’ lives, both models of living fully and faithfully to the end, and especially for the reminder they didn’t journey alone. I am thankful for Joan Lee and Pina Templeton…and for the love of my life, Leanne…perhaps their greatest legacy is their enduring model of marriage.