Harold Clayton Van Meter

Harold Clayton (Van) Van Meter August 24, 1936- August 10, 2005 BUENA VISTA, GAŚ Harold Clayton (Van) Van Meter of Buena Vista, GA. and Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, died on August 10, 2005 at his home in Buena Vista after a long illness. Van was born on August 24, 1936 in Columbus, GA, the son of Edmund Baker and Johnnie Martin Van Meter. He graduated from Columbus High School in 1954 and from North Georgia College in Dahlonega, GA. He was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army on June 6, 1958 and retired as Colonel, October 31, 1981. Key positions included tours in Vietnam, Commander, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Training Brigade, 9th Infantry Division (Ft. Lewis, WA), Commander, 1st Infantry Training Brigade, Ft. Benning, GA., Director of Training Developments, Infantry School; Director of Leadership Department, Infantry School, Ft. Benning, GA. Awards and decorations included: Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit (3 Oak Leaf Clusters), Distinguished Flying Cross (2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Purple Heart (Oak Leaf Cluster), Combat Infantry Badge, Master Parachutists Badge, and Ranger Tab. During his military career, he completed his Masters and Doctorate Degrees from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA. Upon retirement from the military, he founded the Cardinal Management Company, a consulting firm representing many national and international defense contractors. He was a past member of the Downtown Columbus Rotary Club, member of the first Leadership Columbus, Director of Boy Scouts of America, President of Fort Benning Chapter of Association of the United States Army and then served at 3rd Region President, AUSA, President of the US Army Ranger Association. He is a member of the Country Club of Columbus, Sea Pines Country Club and South Beach Racquet Club of Hilton Head, SC. During the course of his life his most faithful service was to his Lord. He served as a Deacon, Finance Committee Chairman, Sunday School teacher, Columbia Baptist Church, Falls Church, VA, and as a Deacon in the First Baptist Church since moving to Buena Vista in 1988. He was active in sports throughout his high school and college years, his main loving being the game of basketball. But it was his love for the game of tennis that he was most noted for in the years that followed. His passion for the game was evidenced in the many years that he spent both coaching and playing the game. In 1992, he was a member of the Seniors 3.5 USTA National Championship team and in 1997, he coached the Buena Vista, GA Mens 3.0 USTA National Championship Team. He was a member of the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR) for twenty years and was a Certified Tennis Professional. In 1998, he received the Jim Verdick International Coach of the Year Award. He is survived by his wife, Julia Herring; his daughter, Dana Pigford (Steve) of Fayetteville, GA.; his daughter, Connie Wilkes (Mark) of Columbus, GA.; his son, Clay Van Meter (Kristy) of Senoi, GA.; his sister, Judy Parris (Chuck) of Huntersville, NC.; his nine grandchildren; his sister-in-law, Burgin Benson (Sims) and four nieces and nephews. Funeral services will be Friday, August 12 at 3 p.m. at the First Baptist Church, Buena Vista, GA with burial following in the Buena Vista Cemetery. The family will receive friends at the First Baptist Church and Pastorium on Thursday, August 11, 2005 from 6 until 8 p.m. according to Tante Funeral Home in Buena Vista. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to First Baptist Church of Buena Vista, GA., P.O. Box 84, Buena Vista, GA or the Georgia Baptist Children's Home, P.O. Box 329, Palmetto, GA. 30268.

Published in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Columbus, Georgia on 8/11/2005.


Please let me tell you why I'm going to a funeral today.

It's for a Buena Vista man I spent only parts of two days with 13 years ago. I haven't seen him since then --- but he gave me a motto I recite every day:

"Make it a good day."

That's how Harold Clayton Van Meter, also known as Hal or just Van, ended his answering machine greeting when I called him during my first year at the Ledger-Enquirer. My assignment: Write about this tennis coach who gives free lessons on his backyard court made out of some weird material resembling a shower mat.

I also made sure to ask him why he says, "Make it a good day," instead of "Have a good day," like most folks. He said his version reminds us that we have a lot more control of our lives than we often realize.

Turns out, Van taught people more than tennis.

He was a mighty man with a soft touch. He was commanding but not overbearing --- a look-you-in-the-eye, firm-handshake, remembers-your-name kind of guy.

He oozed life.

No wonder this 1954 Columbus High grad retired as a colonel in 1981 after 23 decorated years in the U.S. Army. No wonder the defense contract consulting firm he founded, Cardinal Management Co., was internationally renowned, and phone calls sometimes caused him to zoom to the airport. No wonder gobs of groups gave him prominent positions, such as president of the U.S. Army Ranger Association, Boy Scouts of America board member and Leadership Columbus inaugural class participant. No wonder he played on a senior United States National Tennis Association championship team and coached another one to a USTA title. No wonder the four-year scholarship Harvard awarded one of his prodigies was for academics.

And no wonder I gasped when I saw his obituary in Thursday's L-E. Van died Wednesday at his Buena Vista home after a long illness. He was 68.

My mind gushed, connecting the dots:

I didn't know he was ill.

It's smart to read obits.

A few days ago, for some reason, I thought about him.

Despite our fleeting meeting, I know I'll remember him forever, because I learned enough to wish I knew him more, and I feel blessed to have known him at all. Now, I'm sure glad I shared those feelings with him in December, the last time we talked, when he called to say hey and give me a story idea.

Wednesday, my wife e-mailed me the transcript of a guest commentary she heard Monday on National Public Radio. It was one of those "This I Believe" testimonials. It was from Deidre Sullivan of Syracuse, N.Y. She told the lesson her father taught her: "Always go to the funeral."

For her, that means doing "those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. . . . In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good versus evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing."

Van's funeral is 3 p.m. today in First Baptist Church of Buena Vista, where he was a deacon. That's prime time for a newspaper journalist, so it would be inconvenient for me to go.

All of which is why I'm going.

From: The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Columbus, Georgia. August 12, 2005.

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