Thankfulness has to amount to more than counting blessings. It finds its real meaning in our ability to summon that gratefulness in the face of loss.

This year delivered ample opportunities for us to test that ability.

Hundreds of years ago, harsh conditions as well as disease and difficulty formed and defined Thanksgiving, and like our forebears, there should be thankfulness in merely surviving as we grieve also for our friends and family who did not. My friend, David Allen Nichols died recently. I’m trying to follow my own advice.

I met David in 2004, as he finished a book detailing President Dwight Eisenhower’s little know work in promoting civil rights.

Portrait of David Nichols

David taught me that Ike refused to knowingly appoint segregationists to the federal bench. That in anticipating the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case reaching the Supreme Court, he appointed integration-friendly Earl Warren Chief Justice. That he sent troops into Little Rock to enforce Brown.

His book inspired my series of columns suggesting Wichita rename its airport for Eisenhower. That happened in 2014 after a brief public campaign led by two radio drive-time celebrities. When one of them reached out to me, I told them about David, who brought legitimacy to the effort.

David routinely demonstrated a kind of humility and grace so common in the past but smothering in today’s selfie narcissism. He earned two master’s degrees and a Ph.D., operated as a true renaissance man, as his obituary read, but you’d never know it.

As his pastor, the Rev. Charles McKinzie said beautifully at David’s funeral in his hometown of Winfield, after a conversation with David, David would leave knowing everything about you while you’d stand there realizing you know almost nothing about him.

And there was a lot to know. David became a nationally renowned expert on Eisenhower’s presidency.

His books, in addition to “A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution,” include, “Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis,” and Ike and “McCarthy: Dwight Eisenhower’s Secret Campaign Against Joseph McCarthy.”

He was a school music teacher. He played the violin. He’d served as a lay minister. He taught economics at Southwestern College where he chaired the academic business program, supervised the fundraising office during a major capital campaign. He spent 11 years as the school’s academic dean.

This loss feels so great because he gave so much.

I found David’s wife Grace after the service. She gave me a lingering hug and then grabbed my hands and said that whenever she and David flew out of Wichita, they’d see the Eisenhower Airport exit sign, and think of me. She said that it meant a lot to them.

Well, he meant a lot to me and most everyone who knew him. I’ll miss our conversations.

Reflecting on David’s life and counting the blessings of his friendship will be a lot easier.

He left me and his friends and family grieving this loss, with so much to cling to.

Mark McCormick previously served as editor of The Journal.

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