Memories of a Funeral… and Leadership
There are some things I remember from my childhood. Not a lot…but those that have stuck, stuck well.
One is a memory of a funeral service for Walter Kimbrough. Walter was the lead groundskeeper for the Bayonne Housing Authority. My dad was the executive director.
On Saturdays and Sundays when dad would go to the office, I’d go with him.
I got to know the staff dad worked with. Mike Fedorochko was the lead guy on caring for the physical plant; Frank Senkeleski kept the fleet of trucks and cars running; Walter kept the buildings and the grounds looking as good as public housing projects could.
I remember the smell of food wafting through the church at Walter’s funeral. I leaned over and asked dad if he smelled it, too. “This is a celebration of Walter’s life,” dad whispered. “In this faith, that’s how they do it. They may have something over ours.”
Walter, Frank, Mike…and so many other people dad worked with…seemed like part of our extended family. I got closest to Frank. One day when I was at the office he looked up from the engine block he was working on and said to me, “you know you’re pretty lucky. Right? We all are.”
“I guess,” I said. “But why?”
“Your dad,” Frank said. “He works harder than any of us. He treats us all the same. There aren’t a lot of people like that.”
Dad was from the generation that believed in the American Dream. Work hard, use your head and common sense, and you can get ahead. If a boiler broke at 3 a.m. and a tenant called the house (yes, he gave tenants our home number), dad was there with Mike as he fixed it. If a vehicle broke down, dad was there with Frank as he fixed it. If Walter needed help, dad was there.
He and they didn’t watch the clock…didn’t just do the work they “had” to…and didn’t feel entitled to anything. They worked hard, did the best possible job they could regardless of the time involved, and took pride that their work was done well and that the result would help others.
When a Mayor or Congressman disagreed with things dad wanted to do at the Housing Authority, he’d sit down with them and explain it…and they would reach an agreement without a negative news story. Democrats or Republicans (and in Hudson County, it was mostly Democrats), they found a way to work things out with no bullets being fired and no name-calling involved.
My dad’s wake and funeral (back in 1991) were a sea of diversity before “diversity” became a buzz word for corporate America.
Those memories hit me as I read the lead story in the New York Times Friday (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/24/us/poll-shows-most-americans-think-race-relations-are-bad.html?src=me) about race relations being worse now in the United States than they have been in many years. That tension was obvious to me yesterday as I watched a Manhattan street vendor yell at two police officers with animosity and disrespect, challenging the officers to engage him. (The officers were amazing in their restraint, ignoring the vendor as they continued to help with a traffic incident.)
Leadership sets the example in our families…in our companies…in our schools…on our streets…in our nation.
Research tells advertisers if their efforts are effective. The New York Times poll tells us lots more than that.
It tells us the environment we’re creating…through our leadership and commentary…is failing.
There’s so much we can learn from my father’s generation. They’re called “the greatest” for good reason. Instilling their work ethic, understanding, and caring into today’s America is a challenge we need to accept.