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It’s interesting how fast life motors along and how few times we have to stop to think about the shaping forces in our lives. At the end of my Army career this year, I determined that I would give it some serious thought. I will sort of start at the core and work my way out. First of all, our Lord Jesus Christ is the sole source of everything, but because of the importance, I think it should be started. Many times in our society and with our ability to shape our own path, we tend to forget who gives us everything.
Next I think about my Mom and Dad - God blessed us richly with them and I pray He is resting their souls. It’s curious how the details of their subtle hints (and sometimes not so subtle hints) are a bit fuzzy when you look back. Somehow memory seems to make all the good decisions and positive turning point our own. However, if I think hard, I could remember so well my Dad mentioning something to me and me thinking ‘ah no - not really for me’ and within a short time, it was the path I was on and I was an advocate! My Mom had such an impact on me. She always would write a small note just at the right time (and many of those notes I still have today). She influenced me to understand how to place my life in God’s hands as He was the only one that could see around the corners of life. I also remember that she was always looking to visit others and if we picked the blackberries for our family, she would be sure to give some away to those that couldn’t get out to pick them on their own. It is impressive how many parents placed so much forethought into the development and well-being of my brothers, sister, and me. As a parent of four now, I have such gratitude in what they accomplished with the eight of us .
Growing up in Bell and on a farm was an incredible experience that my parents deliberately provided. The lessons we learned from simply doing was such a big influence - fixing a broken fence, cutting a tree down, worming the cows, working the garden, making something from only what you had available, fixing a broken fence, creating something functional from scratch, fixing a broken fence. We grew up where you understood in the end your character was what mattered most - from simple Christian principles to maintaining a reputation for being hard-working to secure jobs opportunities that came available. I remember getting a job and the manager telling me the only reason I had the job was because of my brother’s reputation. That really stuck with me. I especially thank the farmers around Gilchrist County as I think they provided such a great foundation of life instruction in those days.
And where can I start with the mentors/teachers at our grand school in Bell? I will have to name names here, from Ms. Harriet Bachle ‘forcing’ me to become the FBLA Secretary early on which lead to a lifelong interest in leadership and business; to Ms. Jan O’Neill trusting myself and others to lead things that I’m not sure teenagers would have today; to Mr. Rick Reed’s clever approach challenging our adolescent thoughts and gently pressing us into adult; to Ms. Karen Philman’s caring eye and continuous encouraging comments. Luckily the focus for the souls in their care was for them to have a positive character, become a good citizen, and to simply be happy adults. I cannot thank the fabric of society in Gilchrist County enough for any success I have experienced.
Later in life, around one of those corners my Mom talked about, I met a lovely woman named Annmarie. The influence of a good woman is hard to quantify. Her insight and soft touch to continue shaping my approach has been (and still is) wonderful and welcomed. I know I am such a better leader because of Annmarie’s help, training, and guidance. And children, how they inspire us. I think so many times of situations that each of my daughters encounter and marvel in the approach they take. And as Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew: “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Through the eyes of my children I have become such a better person. As I conclude this dedicated thought to the influences in my life, I think of the story in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one returned to thank Him. This article is my attempt to be the one that returned to give my gratitude to those that cared so much. Thank you for reading and pray that God still blesses America.
Colonel Matt Riordan
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Matt graduated from Bell High School in 1983, from Lake City Community College (Florida Gateway College) in 1985 and then from the University of Florida in 1987 with a BS in Mathematics. He was commissioned in the US Army and entered active duty in 1988 where he served for 30 years. He served in Republic of Korea, Croatia, Bosnia, Qatar, Iraq, and finished his career working for the Chairman, Join Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon. Matt and his family were so pleased that his family came to his personal retirement ceremony in the Pentagon as well as friends from Bell, Jeff, Lori and Ashley Hayes, and Danny and Deanna Robertson.