Everyone should have heroes and role models. Everyone should have someone they try to emulate. It’s part of the road map for being an adult. WC has been fortunate enough to meet several people over the last 6.5 decades who filled that role.
WC has written about one of his professors, Dom LaRusso, who was one such person. He was probably the first. Sure, there were other persons prior to LaRusso who influenced WC, but before undergraduate school, WC didn’t think in terms of persons he aspired to match. LaRusso was the first.
The most recent was the late Ted Smith. WC was being considered for a fairly prestigious Board of Trustees of a conservation organization. The Board had a vetting process for approving candidates. Part of that process was being interviewed by existing trustees to see if you had the qualifications and skills the Board needed. One of the existing Board members who interviewed WC was Ted Smith. It was, quite literally, how me met.
Ted was thorough, meticulous, polite and pleasant throughout an initially awkward telephone call. WC works for a resource development law firm and might not have been an obvious candidate for an environmental organization. But Ted was open-minded about it and, remarkably, the 20 minute telephone conversation extended over more than three hours as we talked about conservation in Alaska, fly fishing, Terry Pratchett, Major League Baseball, environmental education, the Pacific Crest Trail and much more.
It becomes more difficult – at least for WC – to make friends as you get older. But over the course of that telephone call, Ted and WC became friends. He was WC’s mentor on the Board of Trustees when WC was approved. We had long, wonderful conversations about an amazing array of subjects on the evenings following meetings. As a member of the Board of Trustees, Ted was a wonderful trustee himself. Thoughtful, analytical and open-minded, he led by personal example and with generosity, patience, kindness, humor, and class. He lived the belief that one person can make a difference, and he empowered others to aim equally high.
As just one example of why Ted Smith was a role model, one of Ted’s many gifts was the ability to ask key questions in a non-confrontational way that would make you re-think your position. WC’s background as a lawyer had tended to make WC cross-examine anyone with an opposing view; Ted’s ability with gentle, thoughtful question to persuade another person to his views was an eye-opener. And a skill WC has attempted to develop.
Ted Smith died in 2012, three years after he termed off the board of trustees. He died hiking in the White Mountains, a place he loved as much as Alaska. WC misses him. His wise counsel, even after he left the Board, was wonderful. That’s gone now, of course. But like any mentor, like any hero, he still inspires.
It isn’t a matter of asking yourself what Ted Smith would do. That’s comparatively easy. What Ted Smith also taught was how to do it gracefully, how to let another person persuade themselves. WC is vastly richer for his friendship and the opportunity to learn from and work with such a person.