The American Gem Society posthumously awarded Bob Speisman its prestigious Shipley Award on Saturday, April 25, 2002, during its annual Conclave in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Society’s highest honor is given in memory of Robert M. Shipley, founder of both AGS and GIA.
Speisman was aboard American Airlines flight #77 on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists hijacked the airplane and crashed it into the Pentagon.
In an extraordinarily emotional speech, Speisman’s father-in-law, Maurice Tempelsman, chairman of Lazare Kaplan, accepted the award on behalf of the family, reminding the audience of the precious and fleeting nature of life. Recalling Speisman’s optimism and sense of vitality, Tempelsman noted—in a frequently halting voice—that his destination on Sept. 11 had been an AGS board meeting in Vancouver.
The audience sat quietly and listened as this industry leader bared his soul, sharing some small portion of the grief Bob Speisman’s family has had to endure. At the conclusion of his remarks, the audience rose as one to give Tempelsman a standing ovation.
What happened during this approximately seven-minute talk was the total identification of a speaker with the audience, and the audience with the speaker. This was no accolade for an industry leader, but rather a father-in-law talking to close friends about his son-in-law. The standing ovation was the only way the audience could respond. It was not an ovation to reward a performance. It was recognition of one of those rare moments in life when people are brought together by the values we hold in common.
One week later to the day, my wife and I attended a function honoring the man who, for 21 years, presided over the high school our two sons attended. David A. Sauter, a Jesuit priest, received a standing ovation as he reluctantly rose at the conclusion of the Mass honoring his service to St. Joseph’s Prep, an all-boy’s high school in Philadelphia. Like Tempelsman, Sauter did not seek center stage; he was leaving a place he loved. As he stood to make a few remarks, the audience rose as one and for more than five minutes applauded this humble man for his work in helping to educate our sons.
The connection between these two events is the power of the emotions people feel. We have a hard time dealing with loss and separation. We are used to having tragic events summarized in 10-second sound bites. But the truth is that when we are so engaged with someone’s life in such a personal way, we respond with tears and by putting our hands together in appreciation of what we have just witnessed.
These were two extraordinary events of my life during the past seven days, and I thought I’d share them with you. Each reminds us to show our appreciation for those we love and treasure, and to do so more frequently.