Many people have crossed the path of my life, but only one crossed it from three different directions. Don Light, one of Nashville’s most admired powerbrokers and star makers, was meant to be part of my life. I said this repeatedly because I encountered him through friends in country music, Southern gospel and NASCAR racing.
For almost 30 years, going back to my young college days, he was my friend and mentor. One of the wisest people I ever met. We all meet many people with knowledge, experience and education, but the ones who manage to sift all of that into nuggets of memorable wisdom are few. Don Light – by the way, most of his friends called him by his first and last name – had the ability to turn experience into wisdom that he willingly shared with others.
It was a sad call that came to tell me that my treasured mentor had passed from this world of trial and tribulation at age 78. As my longtime friend, Judi Turner, said: “No one throws a funeral like Nashville.” It wasn’t just the memorial service I wanted to see, but I felt a deep, unexplainable need to be there to finish the book on three decades of friendship.
The service was held at the Country Music Hall of Fame, fitting since Don Light was chairman of its board and served for many years on the board of the Country Music Association.
Judi was right.
About 200 people gathered for a ceremony hosted by superstar Ray Stevens, probably Don’s second best friend ever, the first having been the legendary Chet Atkins, whom Don always called “Chester.”
There was incredible music by Daly and Vincent, the Happy Goodman Family Revival, the Issacs and the remarkable harmonies of the Oak Ridge Boys. Grand Ole star Marty Stuart, an unmatched storyteller, Steve Wariner, Bill Gaither and a few others, including Jimmy Buffett via video, spoke. Then, Vince Gill sat down on a stool with guitar in hand, told a Don Light story then sang his classic, “Go, Rest High on That Mountain.”
The stories they all told were exactly the man I knew, a gentle man who did not cuss and acted with honor and integrity every moment. They told the same stories in the same way I had talked of him. I looked over at Tink and smiled, thinking, “Now, he’ll know that I don’t embellish.” Even in death, Don Light helped my credibility.
When the service ended, Tink said, “Wouldn’t want people to say those things at your memorial? Every person spoke of his integrity.”
Yes. Of course. But while Don Light leaves behind an admirable reputation, he leaves a legacy to those of us touched by his wisdom. I wrote about him in my last book when I told the story of the young singer he discovered but who he could not convince record labels that the guy was a star. For over three years, they faced repeated rejection.
“I knew that one day if we kept trying, we’d find a label executive to say ‘yes,’” he told me. “I knew they couldn’t all be that dumb.”
Finally, one gave a tentative, uncertain “yes,” but it was enough to launch that artist, Jimmy Buffett, into the highest realms of super stardom. They had plowed through years of rejection to find acceptance.
That story and his wisdom became the foundation for a philosophy that has served me well, especially in the book publishing business: It only takes one “yes” to wipe out a thousand “no’s.” If you keep going, you will get that “yes” that you’re looking for.
It is a legacy of teaching that Don Light leaves behind and that will serve many people for a long time to come.
That’s even more admirable than a remarkable reputation.