The Influential People in Our Lives

This month I was saddened to learn of the death of a very influential man in my life. My career mentor, Milton Murray, died at age 87.

During the first 10 years of my career, Mr. Murray was the most influential person in my professional development. Somehow the label “mentor” understates the profound influence of this larger-than-life man.

I first met Mr. Murray at the airport in Nashville, Tennessee while I was still a college student. He later helped me land my first job at a hospital in Kansas City where he was serving as a fundraising consultant. During the next four years I spent countless hours with him. I was a dry sponge soaking up the endless flow of wisdom from this wise, old sage. (At the time, anyone over 30 seemed old.)

As my career progressed, he introduced me to another of his clients—a hospital in Portland, Oregon. I moved my family there and for the next four years I had the privilege of continuing my education under the guidance of this great man. He taught me so much about fundraising, communications, nonprofit management, office politics and life in general.

As I think of Mr. Murray’s passing, my eyes brim with moisture. It has been years since I last saw Mr. Murray. He retired and moved to California. Once, probably 10 years ago, he and I had dinner as he passed through town. After his retirement we lost touch and never corresponded again.

I hope he knew how much I appreciated what he’d done for me. Sure, I expressed my gratitude on numerous occasions, but there are some people—parents, teachers and mentors—who can never be properly thanked.

One of my resolutions for the coming year, and even during this holiday season, is to express gratitude for all the people in my life who mean so much to me.

Now here’s a strange coincidence:  As I’m sitting here at my computer writing these thoughts, I get an inbox message from a new Facebook friend I haven’t seen in years. After updating me on her roles as a wife and mother, she shared these thoughts—

You know, I’ve always wanted to tell you thank you. You are really the reason that I fell into marketing. As a new college graduate and new into the working world, I will never forget the conversation that you had with me in your office about pursuing a career in marketing. It was so nice to have someone see something in me that I didn’t see in myself. And I guess our conversation served me well! So for that, thank you. Even more than that, our conversation showed me the importance of being a mentor to someone. I’ve told this story about you probably 50 times. Kinda sad I’ve never said it to you!! Thank goodness for Facebook!

Wow! I honestly don’t remember that specific conversation in my office. Until she wrote I had no idea that I’d had more than a passing influence on her life. I guess one never knows. But I’m certainly grateful for her expression of gratitude.

Ready for another coincidence?

When my son, Greg, was in the 5th & 6th grades he had a gifted teacher who took a special interest in each of her students. My son received an excellent education in her classroom. Thanks in part to Trudy Hoffman and other inspirational teachers who taught him, Greg went on to became an elementary school teacher himself.

Next month he returns to the same school he attended in the 5th & 6th grades. His new job is to teach—you guessed it—5th & 6th grades. And what became of his teacher from way back then? Well, she’s moved up to become the principal of that school. So, not only did she mold the life of one of her young students, she now has the opportunity to be a mentor to that same person. He, in turn, will have the opportunity to expand the minds of the next generation of 5th & 6th graders. The ripple effect will continue indefinitely.

There’s something special about teachers and mentors.

Thank someone who has been instrumental in your life. And then become a mentor to someone who will forever be grateful for your unselfish efforts.

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