I recently attended an informal and delightful gathering of my former colleagues from my previous life as an alumni director at UCLA. It had been about 15 years since we had all seen each other. I learned early in each of my careers: seek out the influencers, the leaders, and the potential mentors in the industry. Connect with the people who will facilitate your education in that field. Alumni work was no different. I found a group of remarkable mentors. These gentlemen continue to be industry thought leaders and helped me define my life beyond my stint in alumni work.
Eustace Theodore at Yale: He taught the importance of understanding your institution's history. He characterized alumni work as continuing a great conversation.
Steve Grafton at Michigan: He taught me that nice guys do finish first. And how to honor traditions and evolve beyond them.
Bill Stone at Stanford: Bill mentored me in many ways, but the value of the words we use to articulate mission may be the most lesson. He also told me, “never have people who make less than you on your compensation committee.” :)
Doug Dibbert at North Carolina: Generously shared his wisdom with me. He humbled me to enjoy the journey more than my career aspirations. Sage advice.
We ended up
meeting up at Roy’s Restaurant in San Francisco where Bill’s wife Debbie Duncan
joined us. I opened the menu and saw that they had a gluten free menu. We have recently
come to expect this offering as we have become hyper aware of food allergies
and celiac in particular. This menu triggered a conversation about Debbie’s
gluten allergies, and the precision or the lack thereof, with these “gluten-free”
offerings. She warned us that relying on the special menu needs to be
accompanied with instructions to the kitchen to insure a more gluten free meal. For those with an intolerance for wheat, gluten can be dangerous.
This reminded us of a story about Bill and Debbie’s daughter Molly. Molly has endured gluten allergies her entire life.
More than 20 years ago, when celiac and gluten were not in our vocabulary, Bill was commiserating with me about the fate of his daughter Molly. Molly was very sick, not able to eat and was dangerously losing weight. He was a bit emotional, and I could tell that he feared the worse. He asked for my help.
The week before I was at a picnic with some UCLA alumni and a couple of parents were talking about their daughter and how she was not able to eat and lost a lot of weight. They found out that she had “a wheat intolerance”. Once they removed wheat products from her diet she gained weight and was back to normal. I saw her little daughter running around the park as proof of what seemed like a minor miracle to these parents. Never heard of anything like it before.
Back to my distressing conversation with Bill about his “emaciated” daughter Molly. I said, “Bill, I heard about this ailment of “wheat intolerance” over the weekend. I am just repeating what I heard but it sounds strangely like what Molly has.” Bill was desperate to give the stumped Stanford Medical Center team any new leads. “I am going to tell them to check it out.”
Long story short, it was “wheat intolerance”. Today, Molly is a “perfectly healthy” 23 year old.
Debbie turned to me during our dinner, “You saved her life.”
Soon after Molly’s diagnosis, Debbie wrote a MY TURN column in Newsweek entitled, “What’s wrong with my baby?” This was one of the beginnings of the awareness of celiac and the seriousness of gluten allergies. She later wrote a best selling book to help siblings cope with an ailing brother or sister--When Molly was in the Hospital: A Book for Brothers and Sisters of Hospitalized Children.
I did what any friend would do. Tried to help with anything I had—even a bit of well-timed hearsay.
The lesson for me is to speak up and share what I know. Lead by helping people. Connect prople to other experts. Don’t
pre-judge what you know or what others know. As Debbie pointedly described in
her column, it was hard to believe that the battery of tests conducted at
Stanford did not uncover the allergy.
I am constantly reminded how much people help me with insights and “obvious” advice. How I try to help others with the same. Very little is universally understood and most people are unaware of where they need help.
I am constantly amazed when people write me or mention words I said that made a difference to them.
When your network asks for help you respond. You give and give generously without expectation.
Say what you are thinking, don’t hesitate. Yes, try to package it in a way that is digestible and palatable. But share what you know and what you see. This is how we help each other.
It could save or change a life. One thing is certain, it will change yours.
Thanks for reading. John