Eleanor Josaitis , co-founder of Focus: HOPE, set the bar for me on what it means to live a life of purpose. In the community, she was the equivalent of a rock star: She has been described as the Mother Teresa of Detroit. I found Eleanor to be a consistent inspiration to me to do more, be better, and always keep service to others front and center. Simply, she was a leader to model.
Since her life and achievements are well documented, I want to share a few memories of Eleanor that make me smile every time I think of her.
Once, after a meeting with Eleanor and other community leaders where I had spoken about some very difficult organizational decisions I had to make, I received an unexpected phone call from her. She said to me, “Listen young man, I just want you to know I think you are making the right decisions and you should keep that courage going forward. We need leaders like you… so stay strong.” I remember coming home and telling my wife I got one of the best phone calls of my life because it came from a person I admired so much. Eleanor had the insight to understand when a word of encouragement from one leader to another matters. To this day, I still carry her words with me.
I had the chance to be with Eleanor at many other community meetings and events. As the region struggled with the issue of hunger, Eleanor made a special point of representing one segment of our community that is often overlooked.
She would say, “Don’t forget the seniors in our community. One of the things I would ask you to do is to look in the cupboards of the elderly in your life. They often are too proud to acknowledge they struggle for basic necessities. Things can seem fine, but when you open the kitchen cupboards you realize they are empty. Just take a moment to check on those in your life who live alone and are elderly.”
While Eleanor was a serious advocate of those in need, she also had a great sense of fun. Once, I was on my motorcycle with a riding suit on over my tux pulling out of a parking garage after a long community event in downtown Detroit. I can’t quite remember what possessed me to ride my motorcycle downtown for the event, but I did.
As I rolled out of the parking structure, I saw Eleanor up ahead on the sidewalk just outside of the hotel where the banquet was taking place. I eased my motorcycle across the road and pulled up right in front of her. I had a full face helmet on so she couldn’t tell who was on the motorcycle. But as I pulled on the brake, a big smile spread across her face.
She loved seeing a motorcycle.
“Hey Eleanor, it’s Mike,” I said, as I lifted up my visor so she could see my eyes.
“What in the world are you doing? Did you ride that here tonight?” she asked.
“I just felt like riding. So I threw on this riding suit over the tux and presto! Off I went. You want to ride?” I asked kiddingly.
“Sounds good to me,” she replied.
“Really?” I asked.
“You know who I used to go riding with all the time? Father Cunningham (co-founder of Focus: HOPE). He would come by the house and pick me up and we would go for a ride,” she explained.
“So, someday I want you to come by and pick me and we’ll go riding,” she said with conviction.
“You’re on!” I cheered.
Before I could take her up on it, she got ill and we never had our motorcycle ride. But till this day, I love that she had a free spirit of adventure right up till the end.
Eleanor’s life inspired me to be a better person and to steward with tenacity the purpose you believe you have in life. I am forever grateful to have had my life intersect with hers. I hope I can build on the model she provided and contribute to society with the grace, determination, and love she had.
Tonight there is a tribute to the life of Eleanor Josaitis and her work at Focus: HOPE. If you would like to learn more about her work or get involved, you can click here.