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  • Writer's pictureTim Shih

What Does Legacy Mean to Me?

Pondering your legacy is the privilege of the settled. It’s something people do when they feel content, when they have accomplished some version of their goals. When it happens, it is difficult to avoid the perils of arrogance, hubris, and dishonesty. There are many pitfalls and their occurrence is multiplied when engaging in this practice. Instead, I find it helpful to ponder the legacy of my parents, and my grandparents. What have they left? What was their impact?

In some ways I am their legacy. I am the product of their life and the way they lived it. I was a bystander, most of the time, and a participant, some of the time, in their saga. Probably more so than other people, but maybe similar in impact to my other family members: my brother, my uncles, my aunts, their children and cousins and spouses and parents. The legacy I want to remember today is my grandfather. As a child, he was larger than life to me. Strong, stern, disciplined, he was the glue that bound our family together.

He was a pioneer. He was forged in the fires of World War 2. He met my grandmother in Taiwan. They met at a dance. They got married and had a son, who later became my father. A gifted engineer, he applied to, and was accepted for, Cooper Union’s newly instituted master’s program in New York city. My father was only six years old at the time. According to him, twenty-five plus went into the program, and only six came out. He was one of the six.

He went on to do great public works for the city of New York, working on the Holland Tunnel, the World Trade Center and the New York Subway. I recall my mother telling me how he thought 9/11 was a movie since the World Trade Center that HE built the foundation for was built to withstand plane crashes. He was partially right, the foundation was still largely intact.

His strength of character bound our family together. In many ways, it was solely through that strength. In the wake of his passing, we each individually struggle to find our own path. We’ll get there eventually. It was his interest in the construction of real estate, and later, his actual investments into real estate, that shaped me into who I am today. I took a convoluted path to get there, from computer scientist, to corporate lawyer, to real estate finance. But I found my way. He had a keen eye for opportunity and, more importantly, incredible patience. He operated from principle and not emotion. His example ultimately is the one I aim to emulate.

“Legacy is not leaving something for people. It’s leaving something in people.” – Peter Strople

When I think of legacy, this message resonates within me. My grandfather’s legacy is not the things he built or the properties he invested in. Even some of the greatest buildings he worked on no longer exist. His legacy is his memory within me and all of the other people he touched. This is what legacy means to me.

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