The summer of ’69, I was 10 years old and an avid space fan. Growing up in central Florida, we would watch the countdown for the Apollo launches and when they hit zero, run outside and see those Saturn V Rockets light up the sky.
Christmas in ’68 had been extra special as Apollo 8 circled the moon and read from Genesis. It was to be trumped by July ’69 and those infamous words, “Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
For 36 hours men would be on the moon, with my sleeping bag firmly planted in front of the TV set I vowed to watch non-stop. And I did until I feel asleep later that night, but only after Neil Armstrong had stepped down from the Lunar Module and spoke those immortal words, “That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”
This past weekend Neil Armstrong passed away at 82 years of age. I didn’t realize it that night, but do now. Armstrong was not only a hero, but a humble leader.
Wright Brothers. Lindbergh. Armstrong topped them all in my book, by being the first human to walk on the moon. He could have leveraged that experience in commercials, speeches, and simply making appearances. But he didn’t.
Over the years he shied away from interviews and the limelight. He continued to serve testing equipment. He taught. And according to the release by his family was still husband, father, grandfather.
He self described himself as a “nerdy engineer” before the Big Bang Theory made nerdy engineers cool. He was a test pilot who landed the Lunar Module with 20 seconds of fuel left and a boulder needing to be cleared for the proper landing. He did it as a man who accomplished the greatest feat of his generation and of my generation, but with great humility.
As a 10 year old Armstrong was my hero because he walked on the moon. The life he has lived since then reminds me he did so as a humble leader. One axiom says what matters is what you do after you hit success. Armstrong did it well.
Godspeed Neil Armstrong, thank you for representing us well on the moon and on this earth.