Steve Dolny, Requiescat in Pace

I got one of those feelings. The one that said, “You need to go today.” A long time ago, I got one of those feelings and I ignored it. I was too busy, doing something that seemed terribly important then, but you know, I can’t even remember what it was now. So I didn’t go, and a friend who was dying died and I didn’t get to say good bye.

But I trusted the feeling on Saturday and went to see Steve. He looked like, well, like he was dying, but his blue eyes still twinkled. He smiled at the Snoopy valentine doll that we brought. He tried to say something, but the morphine had his brain. On Sunday, just a few hours after my visit, Steve died.

Steve was a New York Jew. Not one of those genteel, Southern Jews who long ago became fixtures in Southern government, business and the arts. He was Brooklyn kid, hard talking, straight-shooting, intolerant of stupidity and mediocrity. Living in Greenwood, miles from the nearest synagogue, and married to a sweet Abbeville Episcopalian, Steve became part of our community at the Church of the Resurrection.

He gave me a copy of Bruce Chilton’s Rabbi Jesus, and made me a passionate Chilton fan. He’d catch my eye during a sermon, or when I stood in the middle of the congregation, reading the Gospel passage, and smile, as if to say: “Jesus was a Jew. He believed in the Jewish scriptures, the Jewish Messiah, the Jewish God, the Jewish universal hope, the Jewish Kingdom of God.” I learned to say “Hebrew Scriptures” and “Christian Scriptures” rather than “Old Testament” and “New Testament.” I learned from him to see the Christian message as one radically in union with Judaism and not opposed to it. I didn’t baptize him, and he never took communion. He didn’t need to: he got the Gospel better than lots of the Christians who got dunked beneath that old flowing fountain.

He had retired from a career with General Electric to form an innovative consulting firm that helped companies across North America value their employees rather than demean them. He joking called what he did “union-busting,” but the companies who put his concepts into practice would find that unions did not have a chance in their workplaces, not because they were intimidated away, but because they simply weren’t necessary.

Steve believed that business people have a commitment to lead their organizations by emulating the highest sort of values: integrity, honesty, openness, transparency, vulnerability and personal growth. He believed that they have a responsibility to the communities in which they live and work to invest some of their profits back into education, a social safety net and the arts. Philanthropy was a value of the highest order for Steve, who shared his wealth to create a better community for those who had never known wealth. He welcomed strangers, just like Abraham did. He stood on the promises, because a promise should always be kept. He lived well, because he lived good.

Wednesday, an Episcopal Church in Greenwood will celebrate his life. A black ex-cop Baptist preacher will give a homily. There will be lots of music, lots of tears, lots of laughs and lots of joy. Because, like Job, Steve Dolny knew that his Redeemer lives, and that at the last, he will stand upon the Earth. Because of him, we know it too.

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