Honoring the "Old Cook" - How Your Family Roots May Guide Your Money Philosophy


The Edmund Fitzgerald Special Edition
By Matt Fizell

“We’re holding our own”

Have you ever felt like no matter what you have done to prepare, you find yourself in unfamiliar territory and not a clue of how you are going to make your way through a situation…. Have you ever felt like the ship pictured above… in a stormy sea of life? Our financial lives are no different than a ship out on the lake. We can be the best, the fastest, have all the successes in the world, and have an unforeseen event change everything. 

For those of you who reside near the Great Lakes, you likely have seen this picture or have at least heard the story of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” which is arguably the most famous shipwreck in Great Lakes history.  The Fitzgerald was one of the greatest ships of its time, shattering records for the amount of cargo carried on the Great Lakes year after year, being one of the largest and fastest ships in operation, earning nicknames such as “The Big Fitz” and “The Pride of the American Side”.

But on November 10th, 1975 the Fitzgerald found itself in one of the worst storms of Great Lakes history, with wind gusting up to 86 mph, generating waves of 30 feet and larger which proved too great for even the mightiest of ships. The title of today’s blog post, “We’re holding our own”, was the last transmission to ever come from the ship’s captain, who knew there was no possibility of help due to the severity of the storm.

43 years ago today, 29 men suddenly disappeared and found their final resting place when the Edmund Fitzgerald sank into 530 feet of icy, Lake Superior water. One of those men, “the old cook” as referenced in Gordon Lightfoot’s tribute “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, wasmygrandfather Allen who left behind my grandmother and her five children. As you can probably imagine, when the first news reports hit the local television channel, my family found themselves lost in the stormy sea of life, with my uncle recalling his thoughts of “How do you lose a ship?” as the news came through that night, a question that for the Fitzgerald will likely never be answered with closure.

While this chapter of my families’ history is nothing short of tragic, I find it incredibly interesting to see how it has shaped the mindset my family carries surrounding the topic of money. I have heard a lot of the same thing from each of them, “you can plan the best you can now and for the future to an extent, but that doesn’t guarantee anything” and “it taught me to be hardworking, independent and not to rely on other people for money”. Living in the now is much more important to my family members versus looking towards the future and I am confident much of those habits stem from watching the unthinkable happen right before their eyes.  There is that old saying “you can’t take it with you when you’re gone”, and undoubtedly my grandfather’s passing engraved those feelings into my families’ views of personal finance.

While today will bring up a lot of emotion and reflection about the events of November 10th, 1975 for my family, I hope you can use this article to reflect on how your own life events have shaped your views of money and better understand how to use your money in a manner that is truly reflective to your values.  Unlike the Fitzgerald, there is no need to be in a “Holding our own” situation, and I am sure a member of our team would be happy to help you chart your course through stormy waters.

Last but not least, Rest in Peace Grandpa Allen. Even though I never had the chance to meet you, your picture is on my desk as a daily reminder you’ll always be watching over me wherever I go in life.

Articles and References:

If you are interested in the history of the Edmund Fitzgerald, I highly recommend reading the following articles. If dark beer is your thing, the “Edmund Fitzgerald Porter” by Great Lakes Brewing is a great choice… but I may be slightly biased.