A Tribute to Stephen R. Covey

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August 2, 2012

My 22 year association with Stephen Richards Covey in our quest to “release human potential”, has been one of life’s greatest experiences. Stephen was an extraordinary human being in so many ways. He was wise, caring and encouraging. He had a great sense of humor. And, as a man of faith, Stephen had a unique ability to make people feel special with his authentic love and deep respect for each and every person.

Stephen’s nine children plus most of his 52 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren enjoyed a family vacation in Montana the weeks before his passing. In the last hours of his life, each of Stephen’s children also had one-on-one time with their devoted father. What a way to go!

Throughout Stephen’s life celebration (funeral), I continually thought about an exercise we used to facilitate when teaching “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Here is how Stephen wrote about the exercise in his best-selling 7 Habits book.

“In your mind’s eye, see yourself going to the funeral of a loved one. Picture yourself driving to the funeral parlor or chapel, parking the car, and getting out. As you walk inside the building, you notice the flowers, the soft organ music. You see the faces of friends and family you pass along the way. You feel the shared sorrow of losing, the joy of having known, that radiates from the hearts of the people there.

As you walk down to the front of the room and look inside the casket, you suddenly come face to face with yourself. This is your funeral, three years from today. All these people have come to honor you, to express feelings of love and appreciation for your life.

As you take a seat and wait for the services to begin, you look at the program in your hand. There are to be four speakers. The first is from your family… The second speaker is one of your friends… The third speaker is from your work or profession. And the fourth is from your church or some community organization where you’ve been involved in service.

Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father, or mother would you like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?

What character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives?”

All of Stephen’s children (many who work with Franklin Covey Company) and his brother, John (his best friend) spoke at the funeral. Here are some of my favorite comments from his 9 children, in birth order:

Cynthia said that success never changed her father because he prayed morning and night. “If you put Christ at the center of your life, everything else will find its proper place”, her dad would tell her.

Maria told about going through challenging times after delivering her third baby. She said it was just too much for her to handle. Stephen advised, “For at least six months you won’t be on top of things. Throw out your Franklin Covey planner and enjoy the baby.”

Stephen M.R. said, “Our father had a unique capacity to reach people with his teaching and writing, but he always found time for the one.” His oldest son went on to say, “He had complete integrity. There was no gap between what he said and what he did. As good as he was in public, he was even better in private, as a husband and father.”

Sean said, ”Dad was so affirming. Leadership is communicating to another person their worth in such a compelling manner that they see it in themselves.”

David spoke of traveling with his dad. “He was booked from 7 am-11 pm for six days straight. There were so many fans following him. I felt like a rock star. He couldn’t even get away from them in the men’s bathroom. They would slide their books under the stall door for an autograph while he was using the toilet.”

Catherine told of her dad showing her love in the little things. Like taking her to a Star Wars double feature, when Stephen wasn’t really a fan of science fiction movies. She said, “He subordinated his feelings for mine.”

Colleen said that Stephen encouraged everyone to spend 20 minutes a day in prayer – in preparation for eternity.

Jenny said that her Dad taught her that “the secret to happiness is contribution, not accumulation.”

Joshua, Stephen’s youngest child, said “My dad loved to embarrass his family.” Joshua told of riding a ski lift with his dad when he was a teenager. Stephen started singing a made-up song, “I love my family” so loud that everyone on the mountain could hear it. Joshua said, “Now with my own kids, I know how fun it is to embarrass them.”

A Mission That Matters – “Releasing Human Potential”

When Stephen Covey received his Harvard MBA, John Covey asked his older brother what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Stephen said, “I want to release human potential.”

In a private conversation at the grave site, John Covey told me that Stephen thought deeply about the restrainers to releasing people’s potential. John said that Stephen realized people spend too much time blaming others and making excuses.

Many people lack a strong sense of personal vision for their unique contributions in life or they don’t have the discipline to manage their time effectively.

Other restrainers John said, include a lack of concern, an unwillingness to listen or an inability to work cooperatively with others.

The last restrainer to releasing human potential is taking care of one’s self –physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. “This led to the creation of the 7 Habits, ” John said.

Stephen’s wife, Sandra, told me that she thought that they’d have a few more years together.

Life is often unexpectedly short.
Stephen encouraged us through his life and his teaching,

  • To Live.
  • To Love.
  • To Learn.
  • To Leave a Legacy.

The world is a better place and I’m a better person for having known Stephen Covey.

Thanks Stephen.
We’ll miss you!



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