It was on this day in 1998 that Ted Kaczynski, dubbed the Unabomber, pleaded guilty to the federal charges against him, ending more than 17 years of bombings attributed to him. Having attended Harvard at the young age of 16 and later earning a PhD. in Mathematics from the University of Michigan, he eluded capture and lived off the grid for years in a small 10′ x 12′ cabin in rural Montana.
He was finally captured after a 35,000 word Manifesto attributed to him was published and Ted’s brother recognized some of the rhetoric used in the document. Investigators seized Ted and, eventually, he was sentenced to life without parole in exchange for admission of the charges. He was known for sending various numerous letter bombs and his nickname, the Unabomber, was born out of his initial targets – universities and airlines…
For those of you too young to remember, it was quite a reign of terror and it nearly touched our lives in an unusual way. That’s because one morning in the summer of 1980, when Janet and I lived in northwest suburban Chicago, we awoke to our very conservative neighbor, Andy, putting brightly colored stripes on his mailbox, that happened to be situated on our property, across the street from the entrance to his driveway.
I was curious about what he was doing – after all, he was a conservative Brooks Brothers kind of guy and yet, he was applying these wild colored stripes to his mailbox. I found out later that morning that the President of United Airlines had received one of the first letter bombs at his home in Lake Forest, IL the day before. He was hurt, underwent surgery to remove shrapnel from his face and extremities, and survived with no long term health issues.
It was only then that I learned, from another neighbor, that Andy had been an Executive Vice-President of United Airlines and he was concerned that he might be targeted next. He wanted to make sure that if that was the case, the Unabomber would make sure to get the “package” in the right mailbox – Andy was trying to make sure that our family was safe… The stripes that he was putting on his mailbox were the new United colors – innocuous to all except someone who would be targeting a very senior United employee – an executive vice president to be exact.
That behavior fit Andy… Both Janet and I were very fond of him and his wife, Pauline. They lived right across the street from us and in many ways, Andy was a mentor to me. Initially, we had no idea what he did – we just didn’t discuss those things in the neighborhood. But he was one of the kindest, most gentle souls we have ever known. Andy and I would take long walks together with his dog, Strider, and I learned the lessons of leadership as I was growing in my business. His wife, Pauline, would ask me every December to decorate the front of our home as she loved Christmas lights and would sit in her living room and look out at our four acres across the street. It was a good time in our lives as our two young daughters, Kristin and Jill, were almost 5 and 3 respectively. Andrew wasn’t even born yet…
Did you catch that last sentence – our son Andrew wasn’t born until 1981 – and yes, he was named for Andy – a legacy to live up to, for sure. I have often thought of those days and how much I learned from Andy. I really doubt that things would have turned out as well as they did if we hadn’t been blessed to live next to him.
I guess I should have figured out that he was a senior level executive by the company he kept. Seeing astronauts, such as Neil Armstrong, come and go, or Andy’s weekend trips to Hawaii, was a tip off but I never connected the dots. It was only later that I understood how integral United Airlines had been in the early days of the space race and the successful trips to the moon.
I don’t know that I have ever met a more humble man. And I think of Andy and Pauline every year on our Andrew’s birthday. Today, I went out on the internet and looked for a picture of Andy. I don’t even have a picture of the two of us together. And I don’t know that Janet and I realized at the time how fortunate we were to have the neighbors that we had.
Our verse for tonight highlights that God has plans for each of us and we may not even know at the time why we meet the people that we do. The prophet, Jeremiah, tells us, in Jeremiah 29:11-13, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
My encouragement tonight is that we are on a need to know basis with God and some things we don’t need to know. In fact, God is rarely early but never late with things that are important for us to know. My prayer is that each of us may be blessed to know an Andy and have that kind of support and encouragement from a mentor. After all, you never know when God’s plan for you will come to fruition. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…