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Eleanor Sheppard of Richmond and the Inch By Inch Solution

Inchworm Years ago, I learned that if I had somewhere to go, I only needed to take one step at a time to get there. It was from a lady who had accomplished many "firsts" in her life and knew what sh was talking about.

I had the opportunity this week to meet someone who reminded me of someone else who had first taught me that lesson That reminder triggered a truth recollection that, having once entered my heart and mind, has never left. In fact, it has been like a seed germinating into a general philosophy of life that has encouraged me in so many ways and which I have used to encourage others as well:

"Inch by inch, its a cinch."

More specifically, it is ""Inch by inch it's a cinch, yard by yard it's really hard."

I don't know who first said it; it has been quoted many times. However, I first heard it from Eleanor Sheppard, the first woman council member, vice-mayor, and mayor of my home town of Richmond Virginia. Born in 1907, her career in elected office began in 1954 and included service in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1968-1977. Her credentials, memberships, and honors are too numerous to recount. Her civic life included memberships on many boards, advisory commissions, and community organizations including her Baptist Church home.

The occasion for remembering was a Sunday and Wednesday night conversation at Southampton Baptist Church where I was a guest this week. It was there that I met a teacher by the name of Sally Dunnington and learned that she was Mrs. Sheppard's daughter.

Mrs. Sheppard spoke at my 7th grade graduation in 1967. Our 7th grade convened in a separate section of the Westover Hills Elementary School that was all our own. The next fall would signal a giant leap from  there to George Wythe High School where we would all be 8th graders, lower than lower class, so far at the bottom of the heap that we'd have to crawl to reach zero.

And she encouraged us to take one step at a time. It would not be necessary to make great leaps or  to skip steps. All we had to face was what was next and then keep taking steps.

We all listened. This was the first woman mayor of Richmond, an elegant and stately lady with a presence that exuded dignity. Yet she was speaking to us with the kind gentleness of a mother. She had done it and she knew we could do it.

It was my privilege to tell Sally that I remembered her mother and her mother's words. Imagine such an enduring memory. Mine is selective. I seem to only remember the really important things. It was encouraging to hear how those words had helped the daughter in a time of trouble and to share how they had informed my thinking and been used by me many times over to encourage others.

People who make great contributions and achieve great accomplishments are often forgotten by name, but the impact of their lives continues to add value to people and communities. Generations may forget, but in forgetting, they do not negate the contributions. Someone had to take some first steps for others to follow.

It was fun to hear how some of this played out in Sally's home life in the house of such a great mother and states-person, how the children were encouraged to be independent, to grow, and to become what they were made to be - inch by inch.

We all matriculate in the school of can-do long before we learn the contraction, "can't." Whatever we learn to do and to  be begins with baby steps and never graduates far beyond single steps. We have two feet and we get a bit off balance when we try to move them both forward at the same time. We develop rhythms  and large motor memories that become as second nature in our mobility, propelling us forward without effort. It is only as we  overwhelm ourselves with the distance between where we are and where we are going that we become frustrated, discouraged, and perplexed.

Then we sit down or run around in circles - because we just don't believe that we can actually make progress toward any great goal.

We forget that a little progress is far more than no progress. We are either moving forward or falling back.

How do you eat an elephant (not that I want to)?

One bite at a time.

Eleanor Sheppard was trying to instill that in us. She lived it and was passing it on.

I went on the 8th grade and then to 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, college, and graduate school. I have found the words I heard that day to be perpetually true, spiritually sound, and increasingly encouraging. Just this week, I have had to apply them to a problem that has seemed so insurmountable to me and to my family that without this bit of advice, to be faithful in taking next steps, we might have surrendered to despair.

Since those days, I have heard the phrase from time to time. I include some references below. But none of these have impacted me as Mayor Sheppard's words did. I had often wondered what had become of her and what her legacy might have been. It remains profound. For one thing, she has at least one child, daily encouraging children who have been told they are losers that they can be winners ... inch by inch.

And I am living across the country trying to convey the same message to people who have given up on hope and abandoned the notion of dreaming.

It's a cinch ... one step at a time.

Take the  next step, trust God, and then check in with me for another pep talk if you need it. Soon you will be giving the pep talks and will be a role model for others.

That is how it works.

Here are some excellent references to this old saying accompanied by fine articles applying the principle to a number of settings:

- Tom Sims, The Dream Factory

Old_city_hall Old City Hall in Richmond, VA.

Here are some excellent references to this old saying accompanied by fine articles applying the principle to a number of settings: 

Coach Andrea uses it: http://coachandrea.com/html/october_6__2006.html
So does the Barefoot Runner: http://www.barefootrunner.org/reflections/cinch.htm
And others such as … http://www.fettke.com/archives/013102.html and ...
It is even a song: http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/One-Step-at-a-Time-lyrics-Michael-Buble/885E882D39F147A848256DA400074469 and in http://www.restaurant-hospitality.com/article/11019 it provides encouragement for building a restaurant business. At http://www.completeyourdissertation.com/blog/250/inch-by-inch-its-a-cinch/ it is motivation for completing a dissertation.