written for WTAD.COM/WHITE PAGES – 7/14/17
Another piece was written yesterday, but I got busy and forgot to send the accompanying photo. I finally remembered, but it was after we’d gotten the call, Jeff’s dad had died. It didn’t seem fitting to post my typical, “Silly day or thought in the life of Bobbe” post. Instead, it’s preempted by a tribute to my father-in-law, Jim White.
It’s kind of unusual when the parents of the guy you start dating are already friends with your own parents. Our dads golfed together on men’s day; our moms teed it up together on Ladies’ day. They ate dinners together and occasionally traveled together. A few times the guys even fished together. For about twenty years, our parents were even neighbors. Our kids grew up assuming everyone’s grandparents were buds as they ran back and forth between homes. It was great skipping one of those horribly awkward “Meet the Fockers” events.
I had the privilege of working for Jim at State Street Bank for nearly twenty years, until he retired. Believe me when I say, “He played fair, but he never played favorites.” His decisions weren’t always popular, but they were respected. I haven’t met many people who didn’t like him, but I’ll bet they respected him. He didn’t manage. He coached. He rarely complimented the individual performance. He always recognized a good team effort. Rest never lasted very long; he’d raise the bar a notch for the next project.
The best lesson from Jim was a tough one at first. As we brainstormed ideas for State Street Bank’s 100th anniversary (1990), he kept suggesting an antique car show on. That was about the dumbest idea I’d heard yet. Me plan a car show? So it was set. We were sponsoring an antique car show, the centerpiece of our anniversary events. My anxiety kicked into gear. I felt paralyzed with fear of how to execute. I remember telling my co-worker and sister-in-law, Laurie, that I just can’t do this anniversary thing. Too much pressure. “Tell him you can’t do it.”
In my head, I knew it was unacceptable to not try. Jim grew up understanding you can do anything if you’re willing to work hard to learn. What I learned about antique cars and their events was throttling. (Oh, good pun!) Who knew car spaces were wider than our lot’s painted stripes? No door dings at our event! Who knew there was a difference between antiques and repurposed? Who knew this was a strong, thriving culture, drawing car enthusiasts from miles away? I learned that when you can’t do something, you get an expert’s help. You learn from them. It came off without a hitch (Ha-ha – another good pun, no?) I was one proud cookie, as the “Best of Show” trophy was awarded. Jim was right. The event was a gas. (A gas!! Queue: knee slap) People loved it. I loved it.
On the family front, Jim taught Jeff many life skills. This is mainly because if you got in trouble at home, your punishment was working with Dad. It usually involved early risings and long days. Suffice it to say that of all the six kids, Jeff is the one who learned woodworking, automotive, electrical, farming and metal polishing the best. Metal polishing? Yep, one time, punishment put Jeff inside the safe deposit vault, polishing hundreds of little doors made with brass hardware. I chuckle every time I escort a customer in or out with their safe box.
Whenever I entered the White house, Jim would greet you, “And what did you accomplish today Bobbe?” I would try to recite every task and he would answer, “Okay.” My accomplishments never seemed adequate. He always said, “Okay.” I began to wonder if I told him that I’d cleaned the Taj Mahal, swam the English Channel and climbed Mt. Everest, his answer would still be, “Okay.” It angered me because I always felt like I’d disappointed him. His son, Jeff, had married a star slacker. One day, I walked in behind my brother-in-law. Jim asked Kent, “What did you accomplish today?” Kent said, “Not a damn thing, Jim.” He answered, “Okay.” What? Okay? Hmmmm…”Okay” is simply his answer. His reply. His conversation starter. He wasn’t measuring. I felt like a dummy.
Until that day, when it wasn’t obvious to me that Jim was simply responding with a word, not a judgment. Oddly enough, that question remains in my head, to make sure I accomplish something every day. And even when you don’t accomplish anything, it can still be okay. (But probably not very often.) We’ll miss you Mr. White, Jim, Dad, Grandpa, and Great-grandpa. Thanks for teaching us we can, even when we can’t. Best lesson ever. Rest well. Hit ’em straight. Hook a monster. Take that bird. Give Keith a hug for us. James E. White (5.5.28 – 7.13.17)