Editor’s note: Danise Callahan Spiva is the eldest child of John Callahan. She will not be able to attend the funeral of her father today, but if she could, she would have read the letter below to those attending.
When my brother and I were growing up, Dad would often take us camping and fishing near the Owens River, visiting the same places that his parents had honeymooned and later taken him as a child. Nearly every time, we would stop and marvel that Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States, was so close, casting its evening shadow over the valley. What a feat it would be to reach the top!
A few years ago, after months of training and preparation as only he could possibly prepare, my father at last climbed Mount Whitney. “Failure was not an option” in his pursuit to the top. His detailed and organized notes of the trip contained what he learned through research and experience, and they have been shared with many others attempting the same achievement and wanting to learn more.
He reflected many times that he was in the best shape of his life when he started in the morning darkness and climbed to the top in a single day. Reaching that personal high point seemed to bring satisfaction in a special way. Amid so many other and more public achievements in his life, this seemed more deeply personal.
Earlier this month, I, too, stepped up to the base of that great mountain and I, too, set my sights on the top, but with the knowledge that my father had gone before me. I set out on a different route, this one involving backpacking 60 miles with a crew of teenagers with much teaching and learning along the way.
I took a different approach, I had a different story, but like my father, “failure was not an option.” I was looking forward to sharing with him the stories and view from that great height, knowing that neither of us had taken an “easy way” to the top. It had been worthwhile for each of us in our own way. We had not followed the same path, but we had reached the same place in our own time.
I know that many here, and many who could not be here, have been influenced by his pursuit of excellence and of service. I know that many are following in his footsteps, while others have been inspired to take their own route. Yet both have been inspired by his example, his leadership and his unwillingness to give less than his best to any effort he chose to undertake.
He took his responsibility as a leader and mentor very seriously, once telling me that he was fortunate to be able to work with good people and watch them become great, being glad to share with them things he had learned.
As a public school teacher to special populations, I have had similar good fortune. In dad’s words, “The harder I work, the luckier I get,” and I have worked hard to make him proud. Public service and the pursuit of excellence are two values that he held dear and family traits in which he was proud. Those who continue to benefit from his belief and actions can never be counted.
Next summer, I will once again be ascending Mount Whitney with a new group of high school students. I will be sharing what I have learned and watching them benefit from the example and vision set by my father. Although they will never have the opportunity to know him, his influence continues.
As we mourn him today, I will not be leaving him behind. I will be putting his inspiration, lessons and influence into action and I know that by continuing those things that he did so well, I am honoring him. I hope that others will join us in doing the same as a tribute to my father, John Callahan!
Danise Callahan Spiva lives in Modesto and has followed the inspiration of her father to serve others on an individual level by becoming a special-education teacher.
Tribute to SLO Fire Chief John Callahan
John Callahan, 61, served as chief of the San Luis Obispo Fire Department for the past five years.
He died Aug. 18 of a massive heart attack.
Memorial ceremonies will be today. A procession starts at 8 a.m. at Reis Family Mortuary, and a memorial will begin at 10 a.m. at the Performing Arts Center at Cal Poly.
A reception will follow at 4 p.m. at the Madonna Expo Center.