One recent weekend, I stopped in at the Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library bookshop. I was hoping to pick up a cheap used copy of Into Thin Air, a book I had read a dozen years ago but agreed to reread with my nephew Austin as part of our two-person book club.

I’m a photographer, so I can’t walk into any bookstore without investigating the photo books. The library sale was no exception. I pulled Ordinary Heroes off the shelf, and two things about it struck me: the black-and-white portraits and the handwritten inscription in the front:


Discover the Wonderfulness of Ordinary.

Thank you for your service to our young men

and the development of their Character.

Best Regards,


Tom Casalini is the photographer who created the portraits of the Medal of Honor recipients featured in the book. No surprise to see his signature there. But who was Lloyd? I wondered. The answer came on page 78, where there is a second inscription, this one by the medal winner portrayed there:

To Lloyd Carr

Best Wishes

Service over Self

Allen J Lynch

So my find belonged to Michigan’s former head football coach. His thirteen-year stint with the Wolverines produced five Big Ten titles, one national championship, and a 122-40 overall record. He had his critics, especially during a string of early-season road losses, but in light of the debacle that has hit the program since his retirement, Lloyd looks like a genius. Integrity and high ethical standards are a part of his legacy.

Besides two inscriptions, the book is full of underlined passages and quotes, one-word notes, and arrows and stars next to certain paragraphs. Ordinarily, that would greatly devalue a photography book. But I figured that might not be true if the markups were made by one of history’s winningest Division I football coaches. And when I looked at Carr- autographed items on eBay, the handwriting seemed to match.

Why would Carr spend so much time and care doing this? Dedication, duty, determination–the themes of the book–not only reflect what it takes to win a Medal of Honor, but also what it takes to have a winning football team. I’m willing to bet that Carr used these underlined passages to inspire his players on the field and maybe, even more importantly, in their lives.

Casalini makes no mention of football in his inscription to Carr. Instead he thanks him for his “service to our young men and the development of their character.” Toward the back of the book, Carr underlined an entire paragraph:

… the real beauty of life lies in just doing our daily duty to all, for all, through small acts of kindness and love. These are the actions that build strong families, strong communities, and strong spiritual values. These are the acts that build patriotism and are the foundation of the freedoms we cherish.

Under this passage, a single word is handwritten: “DUTY.”