Today, I just heard that a mentor of mine has passed away. His name was Bill and he started the company I worked at for almost 20 years. Today, I am flooded with memories of my time there, some good and some bad but all were amazing.
When I started working in 1989, I was really a lost soul (even more than I am today). I had recently gotten divorced, had no real job experience to speak of (retail, some bank experience) and I only had my GED. I had been interviewing all over the place and getting the same response: sorry, you do not have experience or education. So when I interviewed, I was asked why I was having such trouble finding a job and I explained what I was being told.
Many years later, the HR Manager told me that when she heard me say that I could not get a job because of lack of experience and education, she decided right than and there that she would get me both. That was the corporate culture, set forth by Bill and his partner. Not only do you grow your business, but you grow your employees. There was an entire culture built around that philosophy. Many people gained work and life experience as well as a degree. They had a very generous education policy that allowed many to get their degrees, including me.
When I started it was in the Mail Room. I was scared every day that I was going to goof something up. I apologized constantly to everyone, I must have looked so pathetic. One day Bill came up to me in the mail room and asked me what did I know. Taken aback by the question, I said not much and continued to do my work. He then asked me what they were paying me for. That was his sense of humor, but I did not realize it at the time. For the next two years or so, every time I saw Bill I would start to sweat and shake. When I had to do something for him, I would do it so completely wrong because I was totally nervous.
I eventually did get over all that and he became a mentor to me. There were days when he would walk around the facility talking to just about everyone (and he knew all our names), he would get to my office and sit down and either ask me a question about how I thought things were going or something completely random. He would often tell a story, and when he told a story it was riveting. Sometimes I would work Saturdays just to get caught up and he would visit my office and ask why I could not get my work done during the week. Again, it was his sense of humor.
My work days were filled with hard work, learning new things, making lifetime friends, giving back to the community, and having fun. We all worked hard but when it came time to relax, we did that too. Picnics, parties and luncheons were all coordinated to either celebrate a milestone or give everyone a break after a long stretch of work. The employees were cared for.
I learned many things about business from Bill, but also things about life. My life before was unstructured and not cohesive. I learned to wear many different hats and I gained so much experience. All the time watching this interesting man run his business and continue to be humble. His humanity and humility are the things this world will miss the most. We live in a society where Donald’s and Kanye’s boast about their greatness. I learned from Bill if you are truly great, you do not have to tell a soul. It can be seen and felt. With Bill it was.
I shudder to think where my life would be without knowing Bill and all the people who I worked with. It was truly a family of sorts. We would fight, tease, and be rough on each other but in the end we all admired and loved one another. That is what Bill taught us. Unfortunately, like all good things, those times ended and people moved on. I have kept in touch with many and lost touch with many. I never really talked with Bill after I left, and I regret that. But his presence lived on in my life and will continue to.
Some people touch your life in ways that cannot be explained. Bill touched my life and those of many others in that way. He left a legacy in every person who knew him. His light will shine for decades to come and I am honored to have known him.
Goodbye, Bill, your life showed me how to live. You WILL be missed.