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Saying goodbye to Mr. Snodgrass

The Last Word

By J. Adam Calaway, Director of Communications and Public Relations

Posted May 13, 2015

The chasm between John Snodgrass and I couldn't have been more obvious.

The first time I shook his hand, Mr. Snodgrass was well past 80 years old, and I just inching toward my 30th birthday stood on the shallow end of a 50-year gulf of wisdom and experience.

It was about 2007 and then-President Mike Cawley dispatched me to tap into his predecessor's institutional knowledge and discuss a project that had begun during Mr. Snodgrass' tenure as leader of the Noble Research Institute.

I have long since forgotten the words we exchanged, but I will never forget the man who said them. Mr. Snodgrass' entire existence felt neatly pressed from his chocolate-colored, pinstriped suit to his ruler-straight office. His presence was organized and welcoming. His words were patient and easy.

From the first moment, John Snodgrass demonstrated the grace and strength of a true gentleman. His demeanor harkened back to an era of professionalism rooted in reserved dignity, where kindness and class were synonyms for strength.

On that day eight years ago, Mr. Snodgrass could have been disinterested or even annoyed by the queries of this unaccomplished junior. He was the hall of famer, and I was the kid still trying to break into the majors. Instead he was simply magnanimous.

We spoke for about an hour, and every minute was filled with a grandfatherly attentiveness. If he was busy or distracted, I never knew.

I left that day with a greater appreciation for all the men and women who had come before me. As a young person, you rarely give much thought to the generations who forged your organization's history, but there he was, a mason of my institution's legacy.

Through the years, he sent me handwritten notes, providing praise about an article he had seen in the newspaper or in our institutional magazine. On rare occasions we'd cross paths at a Noble Research Institute event and spend a few minutes chatting. He would shake my hand and ask about my current projects. He'd always provide a word of encouragement, ever the mentor, ever the gentleman.

Mr. Snodgrass died peacefully at home on March 26, 2015. He was 89 years old.

As I read his obituary, I couldn't help thinking about how many other people had experienced his compassion.

Born in Ardmore in 1925, he served in the Navy during World War II until being honorably discharged in 1945. He went on to attend the University of Oklahoma and marry the love of his life, Joan, in the late 1940s. For decades, he worked in business, founded both an insurance company and an investment company, and led a bank. More so, he built an unimpeachable reputation.

Mr. Snodgrass became president and chief executive officer of the Noble Research Institute in 1982. Under his thoughtful leadership, the Noble Research Institute made great strides in research and expanded its agricultural programs. He served a decade before retiring in 1992. The following year, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame for his dedication to his state.

More than the awards or the business titles, Mr. Snodgrass was known as a servant to his community. He spent the next 14 years after his retirement serving on numerous community boards. He even assumed the role of president of Community Activities of Ardmore and president and CEO of the Southern Oklahoma Memorial Foundation.

In 2006, he again retired sort of. Mr. Snodgrass still went in to his office and worked. He still attended community board meetings. He still provided counsel to the next generation. That was who he was.

It's funny how the death of a great person has that unusual ability to bring life into perspective. You quickly see the lasting virtues of hard work, consistency and dignity. We may focus on grand accomplishments, but those never endure. It's the little moments of kindness that everyone remembers.

It's what I'll remember about Mr. John Snodgrass.

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