Stories of Family

Warren Miller

St. Augustine, Fla.; Longwood, Fla.; Novato, Calif.; South Boston, Mass.; Morristown, N.J. By On June 24, 2016

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Kathy Sherwood of WSOS interviewed Warren Miller for the final Closing the Loop interview.

KS: The first words in a Closing the Loop interview usually are where someone is from.

WM: I was born in New York City. I grew up in Morristown, N.J., near where my father grew up, I went to college in Boston, moved to California after college to become a rock ‘n roll musician, moved in 1980 to St. Augustine, to the Orlando area for 20 years, and came back to Jacksonville in 2002. So more than half my life has been in Central and Northeast Florida.

KS: How did you become a journalist?

Basically, I’ve done two things pretty well since I was a child — write and play music, especially on keyboard instruments. I’ve been in business. I have an MBA, I’m a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM practitioner, I’ve held insurance and investment licenses, but I’m not more than competent at finance and marketing. If I’m talented at anything, it’s story-telling.

KS: How did you develop the story-telling skills to do something like Closing the Loop?

I moved to Florida in 1980, and I got work almost immediately as a writer. While I was writing, I was asked by Glenn Stetson to join The Diamonds as a singer and piano player, and traveled the country for five years in the mid ’80s. We were regulars on Ralph Emery’s show on The Nashville Network, we played the Beacon Theater in New York, the Universal Amphitheater in L.A., and dozens of state fairs. All the while, I was writing and editing magazine articles, using an early portable computer, on airplanes and in hotel rooms.

By the early ’90s, I was out of music, editing and writing full-time. I started doing commentary for WMFE, the public radio station in Orlando in 1993 and wrote for the television side, as well. By 2002, I was divorced, the custodial parent of a 15-year-old science whiz kid, and working with a technology development start-up. That company let me move to Jacksonville so that Andrew could go to Stanton, and I started doing commentaries for WJCT. I’ve been on the air in Jacksonville ever since.

KS: You began Closing the Loop five years ago. Whose idea was it?

The show was my idea, but Scott Kim was the news director at WJCT at the time. We were friends from WMFE in Orlando. He asked me to do a weekly four-minute spot to fill a scheduled break in the morning and afternoon news programs. he said, you can do anything you want, but you have four minutes. I thought, how cool – it’s like haiku or a 12-bar blues. It’s a discipline, not a limitation. Closing the Loop started out about how people were dealing with the recession, but it quickly became about how people were dealing with life.

KS: Was it hard to find people to interview?

I just asked everyone I knew if I could interview them! …

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Jeff Campbell

Gulfport, Miss.; Jacksonville, Fla. By On June 17, 2016

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Jeff Campbell was born in New York, but his family moved to Arizona when he was a teenager. That’s where he learned to fly.

“My father pushed, in a good way, to succeed at different things, and one was pushing me to get my pilot’s license. He had put some money aside to do that.”

Jeff went to college, and wanted to become a Navy pilot. There was a problem, however.

“Unfortunately, my vision is not 20/20. All the military services require 20/20 uncorrected vision to fly.”

But Jeff learned more about the cockpit team for tactical fighters.

“There is a member of the air crew, a naval flight officer. Although you don’t get to be a pilot, you work the weapons system, the radar, deploy missiles … you also do the navigation and communications. A lot of people have seen the movie ‘Top Gun,’ and that’s the aircraft I used to fly in, the F-14, from 1982 to 1993.”

And that’s when his health issues began to appear.

“I started to decline physically, shortness of breath, and just not being able to do the things I normally could do. I was writing it off to age. I thought, ‘you’re getting older, getting out of shape.’ Certainly, there was some of that, but it was being accelerated. I went from being able to jog to I could only walk, and no matter how hard I was trying to get back into shape, I continued to decline.”

Jeff’s wife, Lore, is an active duty Navy officer, a Stanford-trained engineer in what used to be called the Seabees, or construction battalions. Jeff has moved with her on her frequent postings, which brought the couple to Jacksonville. A few years ago, Jeff was working out at the NAS Jacksonville gym, and almost passed out.

“They took me over to the emergency room, but couldn’t really identify anything until they put me under a stress test. Once they did that, they saw the EKG, they saw the spikes. Basically, my heart was not firing properly, and ultimately, it was blockages. There were blood clots that had migrated to my pulmonary artery and into my lungs.”

Doctors inserted a metal filter in the return vein to his heart to guard against a clot in his legs traveling there. No one knows for certain what caused the clotting.

“It is often associated with aviation – pressure differentials, varying your altitude, especially in such a dynamic environment.”

Jeff has seen an immediate improvement in his health, his energy and his stamina. Now he’s on to whatever is next.

“My wife has already got some plans for me! She’s done triathlons, all the way up to Ironman level, and has done very well. She’s an impressive woman. That’s still quite a ways down the road. I’m still recovering. Pretty much all I’m doing these days is walking until the heart shrinks a little more.”

And he’s deciding what opportunities he has for work. As with his health, …

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Photo: Warren Miller

Sarah Sanders (Mama Blue)

Orange Park, Fla.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Germany By On June 10, 2016

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Sarah Sanders, who’s better known in Northeast Florida by her stage name Mama Blue, was born in Orange Park and grew up in the area. As a small child, she spent her days with her grandmother.

“Before I was school age, I would stay with my grandma while my mom worked, and she’d always be singing while she did her chores. Well, when I got old enough to do chores, singing helped them go quicker.”

Sarah grew up in a family that belonged to a strict Apostolic church during most of her childhood.

“I hadn’t seen a television or listened to the radio. I had a really sheltered life. I wore dresses and hats all the time, even in gym class. That was stressful for a kid in seventh grade.”

But after seventh grade, her family left the church. Sarah finally got to hear pop music and watch television.

“Oh, my gosh! That was amazing! I got to hear Michael Jackson and Prince and Chaka Khan and Etta James and Billie Holiday. My world just opened up.”

Sarah’s world continued to expand. She auditioned for and was accepted into Jacksonville’s Douglas Anderson School for the Arts as a singer. Sarah had never thought about singing as a profession. She just liked to sing.

“I didn’t know that it was something that I could make a living doing. I just thought, well, if there’s a school for singing, then there must something to it. I just wanted to see how far I could go with it.”

At DA, Sarah studied theater, as well as music. She acted in dramas, sang in musicals, both at DA and after high school at Jacksonville University, to which she received a vocal scholarship. Then, she left town.

“I left JU and I moved to Germany. There was a gorgeous guy there! I met him here and followed him to Europe. We married and I have two kids. It was really a great time in my life.”

Living in Germany with two small children, Sarah sang, but not as often. Her evolution into a jazz and blues singer followed the events in her life.

“The ending of my marriage and feelings that I’d never felt before. Most of my songs were happy-go-lucky songs, or rock ‘n roll songs. But then, when I grew into the blues and jazz, it was that point in my life when my marriage was ending, I was a single mom in another country and didn’t have any family over there. I was in a dark place in my life. I grew into the blues.”

About that time, her mother needed her back in Jacksonville.

“My mom got ill, and there were some things with the house that she was dealing with the city, and she needed her pit bull. So, I came back home and took care of that for here, and ended up staying.”

In the past few years, Sarah has developed her Mama Blue persona, part singer and …

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Photo: Warren Miller

Cameron Stewart

Spokane, Wash.; Jacksonville, Fla. By On April 29, 2016

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Cameron Stewart is a big man. After high school sports, and tours as Marine medic corps man in Afghanistan and Iraq, he was left with crippling back pain. He became a chiropractor – and his greatest professional talent may be empathy.

Cameron Stewart was born in California, but when he was young, his parents moved the family to eastern Washington.

“When I was 13, the family moved up to Spokane and bought a farm. I went from a beach bum to a farm hand. My parents worked in the medical field, and the farm chores were left to my sister and me. Every day,. we’d get up early and take care of the farm, go to school, come home and do more farm chores, and wake up the next day and do it all over again.”

Cameron was a star athlete in high school. He’s 6’5” and more than 300 pounds. and played football, although his best sport was track, where he threw the discus and hammer. After two years of junior college, and the events of 9/11, he decided to join the Marines and become a medical corp man. But the Marines were at war, and they wanted the big guy out leading troops.

“They looked at me and said, ‘are you sure?’ I was like, Yeah. And they said, ‘go across the hall and talk to the Navy.”

So Cameron trained as a Navy corpsman, and was assigned to a Marine brigade. He married and moved to Hawaii with the Marines. Then his unit went to Afghanistan.

“I married my high school sweetheart. We were doing okay, joined up with the third marines, deployed to Afghanistan. While I was there, my wife filed divorce papers.”

Camaron returned to Hawaii, but his unit deployed again soon, this time to Iraq. Cameron came home once again from war, met the woman to whom he’s now married, finished his enlistment, and went back to college. He slowly began to realize that he was injured, and suffering increasing back pain.

“Nothing was violently done. It riding around in Humvees that were not meant for someone my size, wearing an 80-pound flak jacket with bullet-proof plates on it, and carrying around 300 pounds of equipment on my back. that wear and tear led to lower back injuries.”

Back pain soon took over Cameron’s life.

“I was taking eight Oxycontin a day just to function. It took me two hours on a concrete floor, screaming into a pillow, to relax to the point where I could get a few hours of sleep. My wife had to help me get dressed in the morning, because I couldn’t bend over and touch my toes or ties my own shoes.”

Coincidentally, Cameron Stewart had decided to become a chiropractor, for several reasons.

“I knew that I wanted to be my own boss, and being a chiropractor was one of those ways of looking at that. I’ve always believed in chiropractic, from having a football injury helped …

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Photo: Warren Miller

Deirdre Clayton

Jacksonville, Fla. By On April 8, 2016

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Deirdre Clayton was widowed at age 30 with two young children. Her career search led back to what she’d wanted to do since she was a teenager – help people. Today, she’s a guidance counselor in a Jacksonville middle school.

Deirdre Clayton grew up in Jacksonville, and became a military wife. Her husband and she had two young children when her husband was killed in a car accident.

“I was 30 years old, and I was very depressed. I had a six-year-old and an 18-month-old, and I didn’t want them to see me depressed.”

So Deirdre, who had worked part-time to make extra money for the family, started thinking about work differently. She got a job at a local credit union.

“I started off in the call center part-time, because I was raising my kids. After they got in school, I was able to dedicate more time to a career. Then, I went back to school and was able to dedicate more time to my career. I got my degree in business. As the kids got older, I was able to go into the mortgage department.”

Deirdre became a loan underwriter, and did that for a number of years.

“When I went to college from high school, I wanted to go into social services. But everyone said, ‘no, you don’t make any money at that.’ So I went into marketing.”

When the housing slump hit in 2006, and mortgages weren’t being written, the thrift sent many of its officers to speak in area schools as community outreach. Deirdre was one of them.

“I loved it! When I came to work every day, I was hoping that they would say, ‘Miss Clayton, go to this school and do some work.’ We’re going into the schools and saying, ‘this is how you do your financial portfolio, this is how you save money.’”

Deirdre was starting to change her view of what she wanted to do with her life.

“I worked in a program at the International Baccalaureate high school, and that became my project. I talked with guidance counselors, and I wanted to do what they did. I talked with one of mentors at the credit union, who said, ‘Miss Clayton, you need to follow that.’ I said, “I can’t afford that!’ and she said, ‘when you’re following your dreams, you can afford it.’”

That didn’t mean she could afford it easily.

“ I applied to the program and got accepted. I cashed in my 401(k), got some student loans, put in my resignation at the credit union. I got a job at my church – it didn’t pay much, but it was just enough.”

Deirdre graduated from the counseling program, and got a job almost immediately. A year later, she got a phone call about a high school guidance counselor position.

“Someone called me who I interned with and said, ‘hey, they got a school counseling position!’ that never happens. To get a job in here, somebody has to die, …

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Photo: Warren Miller

Winston Allen

Columbus, Ohio; St. Augustine, Fla. By On March 18, 2016

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Winston Allen is, is in his own words, a “triathlete for life.” He started working out at age nine to keep bullies away. Today, at 85, he’s the defending world champion triathlete … and getting ready to defend his title.

Winston Allen is from Columbus, Ohio. He’s now 85, and he started working out as a child to defend himself.

“I started taking care of myself when I was about nine. I realized I was smaller than my peers. I’m only five feet, six inches now. We had a guy in our class named Joe Brown. He was 12 years old in the third grade – he’d flunked three times! – and he was a bully. My coping mechanism was to exercise, pushups, pullups, lift bricks and stuff, because I didn’t have weights then. The word got around that I was scrappy, and I never had a problem.”

Winston found that he liked sports.

“In high school, I swam, and then I went on to college and became a diver. I was a finalist in two Olympic trials, in 1952 and 1956, in 10-meter platform diving.”

Winston graduated from college during the Korean Was, and was drafted. He became a military criminal investigator, and when he finished his enlistment , there was a job waiting for him as an auditor.

“When I got out of the service, the IRS wanted to hire me. They wanted me for my investigative experience. I learned a lot in the IRS.”

Winston left government work, and became a private asset manager for some years.

“When my last client died, I dropped out of that. I couldn’t sleep nights. When you’re responsible for your clients’ life savings, it’s a big responsibility.”

He retired when he was 60. About that time, a new challenge appeared.

“My son did the Ironman Hawaii in 1982. He came back and said, “dad, you could this.’ I did my first triathlon in 1983, so I’ve been an active triathlete for 33 years. The first one I finished, it was an Olympic distance – a mile swim, 25-mile bike, and 6.2-mile run. then I went back the following year, leaned into it competitively, and I finished third. I’ve done 13 Ironman Hawaii’s.”

You’ve probably figured this out already … but Winston Allen is a very competitive person.

“Oh, yes. Yeah, always. Anything I take up, I want to be good at.”

And what he likes most about triathlons is that he takes an early lead and tries never to give it up.

“Well, I’m a swimmer, so right off the bat, I’m in front of everyone out of the swim. Nobody in the world beats me out of the swim. It’s mine to lose. I’m the defending world champion, and I’m going to defend that championship this September in Cozumel, Mexico.”

The irony of Winston Allen’s competitiveness is that the head-to-head aspect of competition is not what’s getting tougher.

“At 86 years old, I don’t have too many in my …

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Photo: Warren Miller

Julia Crowley

Sacramento, Calif.; Jacksonville, Fla. By On March 11, 2016

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Julia Crowley started selling cosmetics for shoe money and girl time. But when her family needed much more from her, and from her business, Julia stepped up her game.

Julia Crowley grew up in Northern California, studied communications in college, and immediately went into television news.

“I went to college in Washington state, started at a TV station there, and then went to Sacramento for my first job out of college.”

She met her husband there, who lived in Jacksonville. Fortunately, her employer also owned a television in Jacksonville. Julia was on the air in Jacksonville for four years. When her contract came up for renewal, however, she had second thoughts about what her priorities were.

“I was wanting to start a family, and the stress of the job was just a lot. I did morning and evening traffic, and there weren’t many break or vacation days.”

Julia and her husband, who was a teacher, had a child, who – they quickly learned – had a rare genetic disorder that required her near-constant attention during his first year. But Julia also realized that she wanted to work.

“When he was about six months, I really thought that it would nice if we had a little extra money coming in, but I also needed a place for me. I needed to have goals, something to get excited about. That was what I was missing from not working.”

With her son’s illness, day care and a regular job, let alone her previous profession, were out.

“I started to think of something to do for me. I was just looking for a way that gave me freedom to work with my child, because I needed a job that I could keep him with me. When I started, I called it ‘shoe money,’ just some extra spending money.

Julia Crowley became a representative of a well-known direct sales company in cosmetics and beauty products. She found that it met even more needs than she had anticipated.

“It also gave me girl time that I was missing. Have women over and play with makeup. I really enjoyed that.”

And things might have gone on like that … but they didn’t.

“My husband became ill overnight. He was healthy on Wednesday, and by the weekend was having 20 or 30 seizures a day. And it lasted for a year and a half. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and life got a little crazy for us.”

Julia Crowley was pregnant with the couple’s second child. Doctors couldn’t find a way to treat her husband’s benign but inoperable tumor … or help the seizures.

“The doctors eventually told us that they didn’t think they were going to be able to stop them, and that this just might have to be how he stayed.”

Neither Julia or her husband thought that that was an acceptable outcome. So they prayed.

“We focused on healing prayer. Because of my business, it allowed me to focus on that and …

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Photo: Warren Miller

Tom Nuijens

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Atlantic Beach, Fla.; Heredia, Costa Rica By On March 5, 2016

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Tom Nuijens loved surfing, fishing, good food (including pepper sauces) and travel. Since his hot sauce company has hit the big time, he can do all of it – except surf and fish.

Tom Nuijens (pronounced “noo-jens”) grew up in Fort Lauderdale, waterskiing and surfing … and in a family that was devoted to good food.

“We all loved dinner hour, which is kind of unusual for younger kids. My father was the cook of the family. My sister is an accomplished cook, and my nephew is a James Beard Award chef.

Tom loved to travel, as well … and it usually involved surfing, fishing and food.

“When I had the financial means, I always loved to travel, initially the Bahamas and the Caribbean. And then I started in advertising in 1978. We had the Costa Rica airline and tourism accounts. That got me interested in Costa Rica.”

And that was how Tom came to what he now does for a living.

“At about that time, we were doing a lot of packaging for a natural foods company, and that got thinking, ‘wow, I could do this.’”

In June 1992, Tom formed Half Moon Bay Trading Company, named after a popular Costa Rican surfing beach, and partnered with a Costa Rican manufacturer to produce a line of sauces that Tom created, and would market in the U.S. and the world.

“I create the sauces at home in my kitchen, and then I go down to the factory in Costa Rica and spend a week or so.”

Tom Nuijens didn’t quit his day job at the ad agency, though.

“For the first eight years, I was still creative director, running this out of a rented warehouse in Riverside. We just started to grow exponentially, and at year seven, it was my ticket out of advertising.”

Today, Half Moon Bay’s sauces are sold through the U.S. and in many foreign countries, directed from a small warehouse in Atlantic Beach. Success with food didn’t mean that Tom got to spend more time on the water, however.

“Surfing and fishing more was one of the original impetuses for starting this business, and I just thought, ‘wow, this is going to be great, I’ll spend more time in Costa Rica!’ I bought property and built a house down there. And as soon as the company started to take off, I was stuck here working.”

He may be overworked … but Tom Nuijens wouldn’t trade what he does for anything. At least, not right now.

“I really, really enjoy what I do. People in the food business are for the most part very jovial, fun to be around, and they’re also happy people who like their jobs.”

It doesn’t hurt that Tom makes products from all natural ingredients, and that are chemical-free … except, of course, for capsaicin, the endorphin-producing compound in hot peppers.

“The endorphins in capsaicin – your hot peppers – is what gives people a kick, and endorphin kick. It’s addictive and …

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Photo: Warren Miller

Elaine Pace

Orange Park, Fla.; London, England; Salt Lake City, Utah; Atlantic Beach, Fla. By On February 29, 2016

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Elaine Pace went from being an honor’s student with a college scholarship to living in her car for most of a year. Despite her share of ups and down, Elaine considers herself incredibly fortunate.

Elaine Pace came to Jacksonville as part of a Navy family. Although her father was posted to a new location every 18 months for most of his career, that changed when Elaine’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I was 14 when my mom died. It had been a really hard five years, but together, my dad and my sister and I got through it as best we could. My mom was amazing. She prepared us for everything, right up until her last days.”

Elaine was an honor student. But her home life deteriorated quickly after her mother’s death.

“I graduated when I was 16 from Orange Park High School, and left the house soon after that. My father remarried less than a year after my mom died, and he didn’t choose well. He married a woman who was unkind to his daughters. I received a scholarship to junior college to debate. I was going to school full-time, I was working three jobs, and got an apartment with three roommates, who all moved out at once and left me with thousands of dollars of bills and I couldn’t keep up.”

So Elaine, with a scholarship and part-time jobs … lived for the next nine months in her AMC Gremlin.

“That Gremlin to me was everything! It had enough room to put everything I had in it, and I could lay down the front seat and sleep in it. When I was able to scrape together five dollars, there was a man who would lock me in a gas station bathroom, and I could spend the night with a sink and a bathroom.”

Elaine kept the fact that she lived in her car a secret.

“I was ashamed that I couldn’t take care of myself. I’m not ashamed of myself now, but I can feel what that shame felt like.”

Elaine Pace got another scholarship for debating to a college in Alabama. The college ended debate scholarships before she graduated, though. Elaine worked in the States and in England before returning to Jacksonville … where she attended the University of North Florida. After earning her bachelor’s, she won a scholarship to the Kennedy School for Government at Harvard. Then, Elaine moved to Utah.

“I’d never lived that had mountains, and I wanted to ski! I didn’t think it would be for long, but I ended up staying 15 years. I met my husband there. Recently, we moved our family back to Jacksonville. I missed being here. I work for myself now, consulting with non-profits and helping them to do better philanthropy.”

But despite a life that has had its share of tragedy and upheaval, Elaine wouldn’t trade away any of it.

“I’ve always considered myself to be incredibly fortunate. My mom brought me up, if we …

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Photo: Warren Miller

Anthony Johnson

Indianapolis, Indiana; South Bend, Indiana; Charlotte, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla. By On February 19, 2016

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Anthony Johnson played football from high school through an 11-year NFL career. Today, he’s the Jacksonville Jaguars’ chaplain … and possibly the most low-key former NFL player you’ll ever meet.

He’s an Indiana native who went to Notre Dame on a scholarship. He had, at that time, a single focus to his life.

“Playing football, my passion since I was young. I played through high school and was good enough to get a football scholarship to Notre Dame. I graduated in 1990 and was drafted in the second round by the Indianapolis Colts.”

Anthony played 11 seasons as a running back for five different NFL teams. The last was the Jaguars, which he joined for the 2000 season before retiring.

“During the course of that time, I had the opportunity to be impacted by to chaplains on several different teams. Seeing the impact they had on me when I was playing was part of what encouraged me to take the opportunity to do the same.”

The work of, and the need for an NFL chaplain to an NFL is not well understood.

“Playing in the NFL, obviously you have a lot of highs, a lot of great things and awesome opportunities. But at the same time, you have a lot of stress, a lot of tension and a lot of challenging experiences. They’re deep things, sometimes things that really challenge you in your soul. You’re a young kid, coming out of school, and all of a sudden, you’ve been given millions of dollars, sometimes. You have everything that the world wants – you have money, health, prestige, you’re on a platform. That sets you up as a target. And here’s the one thing you don’t expect – sometimes family can come at you and see you as dollar a sign.”

NFL chaplains work for a ministry, and aren’t paid by the teams. Anthony, for example, is employed by Athletes in Action, the sports ministry of Cru. But the need that chaplains fill is as practical as it is spiritual.

“All they want is an opportunity to help you. With the Jaguars and my situation, Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell have really opened the door and said, ‘Hey, you’re part of the team. Be here every day and travel with the team, engage to the extent that’s appropriate and is necessary.’

It wasn’t a role that Anthony jumped into quickly after he retired in 2000.

“I took, as my wife would say, a long time to decide what I wanted to do. But what I didn’t want to do is feel compelled and constrained into doing things that I really wasn’t passionate about. I was passionate about my faith, and so after a couple of years, I realized, that’s what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

Although every NFL has a chaplain, most are not former players. And the job has no defined work parameters, other than that you serve at the invitation of the …

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Photo: Warren Miller