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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Harry Holt [1 of 2] - Harry and the Meaning of Life

After posting the preceding item, I was driving to the drug store and started to think about how much time had passed between Mr. Holt's death, my post and the follow-up comments from many people about the impact he had made on their appreciation of animation.

I thought it was pretty amazing that these thoughts would surface at a later time. Mr. Holt may have had some idea that his interpersonal interactions and art would have some kind of impact, but my guess is that he would be surprised...

So, what kind of impact will we have after it is all said and done?

Will anyone remember us? Will more than a handful care for more than a handful of years?

There was a consultant that I hired to work with me and my company (he later became my COO). I remember having a beer after work and having the typical non-meaningful conversations that take place to fill in the empty sections between sips. I remember nothing about the conversation that took place, but I do remember the topic gradually wandered to headstones and those few words that are carved there. I have no idea what I said, but I was struck by his statement: "He helped others be all they could be." (This was before the commercial for the Marines aired).

It was one of those moments that took only a second, but stuck with me. I remember thinking that it was a pretty damn good "mission statement" (which, in looking back on it, may have been the subject of our discussion). It was short, easy to remember, and pretty clear. Overall, not a bad mission statement for life. Now, I don't know if this was original to Roy and, frankly, I really don't care. What was important was that Roy really lived his "mission statement" and I think that I'm a better person for it... I'll have to give Roy a call, but I'll bet you he won't remember the conversation.

A "thought rock" tossed into the pond sending ripples to all the little inlets and hidden places.

Years later, I was driving my 80 year-old father back to the airport for his flight to Shreveport, Lousiana after a week long stay at our Colorado home. Just the standard idle chat until he started to tell a story. Several months earlier, he started working at a grocery store in Shreveport sacking groceries. He didn't need the money. As he put it, instead of sitting around watching TV or reading a book, he wanted to "be with the living." As Dad unfolded his story, there was another sacker that he worked with and the two of them ate their "brown bag" lunches at the same time. Dad's co-worker was a young black fellow that had recently graduated from high school and started working at the grocery store. Over several weeks, Dad started to tell him about me.

From what I could tell, Dad's story centered around his concern whether I would be able to "make something of myself." My high school career wasn't too bright -- although I graduated in the top 25% of my class. I did work for several "rock" radio stations during my high school years earning minimum wage and a few 45's (when the stations had duplicate copies). He became more concerned when he received my first semester's grades from Colorado State University -- a 0.6 GPA! The only course I passed was Gym and I got a "D" in that course. I worked hard the next semester and my grades improved -- a 1.2 GPA. I should remind you that the 1.2 was just for that semester -- not the moving average... I finally got it together, graduated, picked up a Master's, taught at several universities, worked with NASA on the first two-way TV satellite project, became one of the first to experiment with satellite-based telemedicine, helped a number of healthcare chains start telecommunications programs. And then was laid off...

According to Dad's retelling, when I asked him for a $5,000 loan to start a new business he wrote the check, but didn't have much confidence that he would ever see the money again. Then he started to share with the young man how my company started to grow. How it made the Inc. Magazine "Top 100 Fastest Growing Private Companies" two years in a row. How, after 15 years, I sold the company for $58 million. And how his initial $5,000 (which became a 1% position) had, finally, "amounted to something."

Dad told me that the young man didn't show up for work the next day and he learned that the fellow had quit. The day after, Dad saw him cleaning out his locker and asked what was going on. According to Dad, the young black man told him that he always thought you had to be smart to get into college and to graduate. His teachers had told him that he wasn't smart enough for college so he never applied. But, after listening to Dad's telling of my tale he decided that college was more than just grades -- it had more to do with finding something that was really interesting to focus on. The young man went down to the University of Louisiana, Shreveport campus and found that not only were his grades and test scores more than adequate for admission, he stood a good chance of getting an athletic scholarship. With school starting in a few weeks, he was clearing out his locker and was going to spend the time at the library reading about potential vocations.

I was dumbfounded! Not because of Dad's assessment of my future. But because of two elements. First, it was a "throw away" story. Dad had been in the house for a week and there was never any mention of the story. It seemed like it was only told to fill the silence as we drove down the mountain toward the airport. Second, the story had value to the young man because of my poor grades until I found something I loved. If we didn't have that "down time" while going to the airport I never would have heard to story. At the time, I didn't ask Dad anything about the fellow. When I asked him about it a few years later, he couldn't remember the young man's name. So, it was almost an accident that I learned about this "ripple in the pond." AND it wasn't a ripple created by any direct contact by me -- more like "second-hand smoke."

I'm sure that Mr. Holt impacted many people in his daily interaction with Guests in the park. And the stories about him may also have unexpected impacts.

For me, the bottom line was very Karma-like. Having first-hand experience in how the pond can resonate, I try to create "positive ripples" whenever I can. I'm still not very good at it, but I hope I can create positive ripple more often than not. Any while it's not as elegant as Roy's headstone mission statement, it isn't too bad...


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