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  • Writer's pictureChelsea Burns

Lessons From My Father

We learn a lot about our parents when they pass away. The never easy, yet beautiful experience we have losing a parent, is the wow moment after they are gone. It is the point in time when we start to grasp the impact our parents had on the community around them. During adolescence and early adult life we are fairly indifferent about what our parents do for a living, how they invest, who they employ, etc. It wasn’t until my father passed away, and I took over his responsibilities, that I was able to fully appreciate him.

My father was 64 years young when he passed away and was still very active professionally. He was by no means an international or national figure. Contrarily, he was a fairly ordinary person. He was a small business owner, an operator, and a real estate investor. However, he was a man whose character was revered by those around him. It is in his passing and through his legacy that I have learned crucial life lessons that will stick with me the rest of my life.


If Warren Buffet’s theory of success is correct, a metric that asks "do the people you care about love you back?", then my father was one of the most successful people I’ve ever met. At his funeral he had a core group of employees who had worked for him for over 20 years. This group of people was like family to him. They started with him 20 years ago at one parking company, and followed him across 3 or 4 different companies. They were all Latinx immigrants, many who left their families behind for decades so that their children and loved ones could have more opportunities for success in their home countries. When Altman’s Parking closed down, he chose to start his own small parking company with the sole intent to continue employing this small group of people. While these people have always been in my own life, my father’s passing made me truly appreciate the impact he had in these people’s lives. It taught me the importance of maintaining strong relationships with employees that go beyond financial motivation. I was honored to turn over the company to his employees, this core group of individuals who brought my father purpose and who he cared for tremendously.


I always knew my father was a real estate investor but I had no idea how hard he worked at it nor the impact he was having on the community. The first day I walked into the Alexandria Redevelopment Housing Authority, I realized I knew nearly nothing about my father’s work over the past decade helping the community stay in affordable housing. The employees at ARHA raved to me about my father and his leadership. This sentiment was reinforced by all his tenants, all who had nothing but the utmost respect for my father. While being a Section 8 landlord had its many challenges over the years, the main take away for me was this: treat people with respect, no matter who they are, where they come from, or their socioeconomic background.

I am grateful for the roadmap my father has left me. His legacy creates a standard for me as I create my own path forward.

Harmon's Life Lessons:

Leverage your wealth with purpose

Have a meaningful impact on people’s lives

Help people succeed, even if they are different from you

Go outside your comfort zone

Treat everyone with respect

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May 03, 2023

I was meant to find this message today. Thank you for writing so thoughtfully about what we do when our parents pass and how we learn about their impact on the bigger world beyond being our parent. I love your thoughts on carrying on their memory with what they left behind.


Sep 04, 2019

Love this post. Your dad was an amazing dude who truly made an impact. It's pretty cool that you get to use his legacy as an example to begin forming your own!

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