The One Hundredth Birthday Speech

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In this excerpt from Two Hundred Tuesdays, Dianne Derby shares the speech that she gave at her mentor Jim Downing’s Hundredth birthday.

“Happy birthday, Grandpa Jim (that’s what I affectionately call him). Jim, it is such an honor to be in a room full of people who mean so much to you. Can’t you just see the love and feel the kindness in this room tonight?

Meeting Jim is like taking a walk back in history, but the reality is, Jim is so present in each moment. Jim doesn’t often talk about the past unless we ask him to—and trust me, I do.

Jim’s focus is on now— on Jesus and how he can serve others.

When I asked Jim what he thinks his purpose in life is, he told me that every day he wakes up and figures out how he can spend as much of his day as possible serving others. How selfless. Can you imagine how different the world would be if we all started each day as he does?

Each Tuesday morning, I spend time with Jim, studying the Bible. I was raised Catholic, and for some reason I didn’t spend much time opening the Bible. I wish I had, because the peace and the knowledge I have gained from studying only just a few chapters has changed my life forever.

I can’t imagine how much better I’ll feel once I’ve read the whole thing, as Jim has. But I’m pretty sure he’s read it about a million times.

I now eagerly await my weekly sessions to prepare to learn from Jim. But if you ask Jim, I know he would say I’m not learning from him, but that we’re both learning from God.

Everything we have comes from God, and that is one thing I learned long ago. In fact, my husband’s wedding band is engraved with the words “From Him, through me, to you.” I hope Pete has seen a change in me. He encourages and honors the time I study on my own and with Jim each week. I hope he sees a more peaceful and loving wife.

I start to get choked up at the podium. The room is silent. It is not surprising that I would cry now . . . I have cried every Tuesday with Jim since we started. I take a moment to gather myself, and then I say, with a teary laugh, “I’m pitiful when I talk about Jim.”

I begin to read the thank-you letter I printed for Jim.

Dear Grandpa Jim,

Thank you for introducing me to God. I always believed in him;—I just didn’t know him until I met you. On March 26, 2013, I became a true believer,—declaring my intent to be a Christian alongside you.

Thank you for teaching me to say “I” less and to focus on others more.

Thank you for helping me to understand that there is nothing to fear, that even in our darkest moments, God is with us. You told me that as the bombs exploded at Pearl Harbor, you never once were in fear, understanding that in the most perilous of life’s moments, God is right next to us.

Thank you for showing me how important it is to be a good example to others at work, which is really tough in a newsroom. I am sure I fail miserably during the stress of covering the news, but I am working hard at showing my best self to my coworkers.

Thank you for telling me about Mrs. Downing’s greatest virtue: her patience. You told me she never lost her patience with you in all of your wonderful years of marriage. What a model to others for how to treat your spouse with true kindness.

Thank you for teaching me the importance of memorizing Bible verses. One of my favorites is Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guide your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”1

He smiles and claps, and I’m relieved I can now sit down. This room is filled with admiration for the man sitting next to me, but he doesn’t care about the accolades. All he wants people to hear is that the man they are celebrating tonight wouldn’t be this full of joy, this full of life, if it weren’t for Jesus.

Dianne Derby

is an award-winning journalist and a longtime television anchor who currently is a co-anchor for the KOAA News5 weekday team in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She met Jim Downing at a luncheon for World War II veterans and learned from him every Tuesday for the next five years. Dianne is originally from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with degrees from The Florida State University, University of Miami, and University of Florida. She and her husband live in Colorado Springs with their young daughter and three rescue dogs

1 thought on “The One Hundredth Birthday Speech”

  1. Beautiful story by Dianne Derby and her “Grandpa” Jim Downing. It reminds me of Mitch Albom’s book, “Tuesdays with Morrie.” How wonderful that these two people could spend 200 Tuesdays studying the Bible and learning from each other. I taught adult Bible Study at my church for 12 years and learned a lot, not only from the preparation I did for each class but also from each adult in the classes. We all need to learn together. I’m sure God is smiling in heaven when he sees people learning and sharing together.


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