Patty Was a Force

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Mar 19, 2011

"Endurance is patience concentrated."
Thomas Carlyle

In October 1850, gold was discovered in the district of Grass Valley, California. Over the next 91 years, at least one million dollars in gold was produced annually from the mines in that area. 

Michael Brennan, a 36-year-old journalist with the New York Herald heard about the mining claims at a place called Massachusetts Hill overlooking Grass Valley. He had no experience in mining, but a group of Irish New York investors bought the mine and chose Brennan to go west and supervise it. 

He sailed from New York with his beautiful wife, Dorinda, and their three children, crossed over the Panama Isthmus (before the canal was built), and then again by ship until they reached northern California. 

He built a large, comfortable home atop Massachusetts Hill, fully expecting that gold-bearing quartz would flow out from his mine below. 

Everything went well for awhile, and within a few months a sizeable dividend was declared. Convinced that an even richer vein of hold lay further along the shaft, Brennan had his men attack the mine with all of the equipment and vigor they could bring to bear. Every dollar he could reuse went into the mining operation, but all the effort produced nothing. 

Deeper and deeper his men dug the shaft, looking for the precious gold-bearing quartz. But the gold had vanished. Brennan was advised by others to give up but he soldiered on. When his company could no longer finance his work, he spent his own money and used up every cent. Finally, no creditor would back him and he had to lay off all his men. 

He continued on, digging by himself. His health and that of his family began to decline. After two years, Michael Brennan realized his Massachusetts Hill had become Heartbreak Hill. One of his friends, Old Charley, found him one morning slumped down at the entrance to his mine. "Charley," he said, "My dream is over. This mine has beaten me." 

The next Sunday the Brennan family missed church in Grass Valley. Alarmed at the silence around the home, the neighbors went to check. They broke into the house and found the whole family dead, evidently of poison. Dorinda and the children were sitting up in their beds, Michael was sitting almost upright in his easy chair in the parlor, as if he had just fallen asleep. The family was buried nearby in the city cemetery on a small rise just across from Massachusetts Hill. 

New owners purchased the mine. At the very spot where Michael Brennan had put in his last day of digging, the new owners set off a blast that uncovered the rich ledge of gold Brennan had sought. One day more and his dreams would have come true! He quit too soon! 

Years ago my friend, George O. Wood, read that story by Charles Crowder, "The Saga of Heartbreak Hill," in an airline magazine. 

When I first read that story in George Wood's article, "Just One More Day!" I was struck by the huge consequences which are at stake when we quit. You just never know how close you are to the breakthrough that changes everything. 

In football we speak of the "Hail Mary" pass. It is that most unlikely effort which can change the entire game if we try just once more. 

Over the years I've seen students who have come so close to finishing their degree and they give up with the end in sight. The three letters "ABD - All But Dissertation" describe many who take all the course work but fail to write the dissertation. 

I think I need to put these four words "Just One More Day" on the corner of my desk. Because when I think there is no more gold, who knows what I will find if I keep digging "Just One More Day." 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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