If you’re fortunate …
If you’re fortunate, you’ll meet someone in the course of your career who’s as meaningful to you as Frank Kearney was to me. We were colleagues for years, when I was in my twenties and Frank was … well, until last week, I was never quite sure of his age. Nor did it matter.
Today, as a trainer, some of my presentations delve into onboarding and communicating across generations in workplaces that may house four (and, in increasingly rare instances, up to five) generations. When Frank and I worked together, it wasn’t his age so much as his knowledge, political savvy, insightful conversation and strategic approach to business and life that counted. People paid attention to Frank for all those attributes, and for his immense charm, wit and wisdom. As recently as the week before last, I shared a piece of still-valid insight I’d gained from Frank more than three decades ago.
At any rate, it was difficult to peg Frank’s age. He was a competitive member of his tennis club, and his complexion and bright blue eyes belied any estimates one might make based on his gleaming white hair. As I learned not long after we stopped working together, we shared traits that saw my own very dark hair going similar shades by the age of 30!
My husband and I had met Frank’s striking wife, having shared a table with them at corporate Christmas parties. We knew their beloved son was older than us. On the rare occasion we did consider Frank’s age, we pegged him as perhaps having spent more years on this earth than our parents, yet certainly less than our grandparents.
Getting to know Frank
Frank and I worked at a listed corporation that brought me invaluable insights and friendships. Frank was a VP, and we met when I was hired to work with the Treasurer. My original role involved financial and HR administration, and I was responsible for provincial licensing of the company and many of its people. Frank was the nominee on record. After I’d done my bit, Frank’s was the signature I needed before sending each application off for provincial approval. This saw me popping up a floor to Frank’s office for reviews and chats two or three times a week.
A bit more than a year later, I accepted an offer of promotion and headed to what we now call the C-Suite, and we enjoyed continued contact. When the VP I supported was promoted to the top of the org chart in BC, and I moved along with him, Frank and I found ourselves in adjacent offices.
Staying in touch across the miles and years
After I left that role to become a software trainer for the same corporation, and even after my husband and I had children and moved our young family to another part of BC, Frank and I stayed in contact. Without fail over the decades, we’d be in touch with cards and phone calls on Saint Patrick’s Day, birthdays and Christmases. From one phone call to the next, we shared news of our families along with discussion of our former sector and world events. During the conversation when Frank told me of his dear wife’s death, I was happier than ever for what I knew were very tight bonds with his son and daughter-in-law.
“… and how are you this fine day, young lady?”
Our conversations often began with that friendly phrase, even when it was clearly generous in nature. Then again, relatively speaking, it was accurate.
Even when I knew he was well and truly old, Frank was sharp, interested and interesting. He continued working into his eighties, and not because he needed to. He took joy in his career, and was highly respected; he remained in demand well past an age when many chose to retire.
Last Monday, I picked up the phone to wish Frank a happy birthday. It wasn’t Frank, however, who answered the call. Frank’s gracious daughter-in-law gently gave me the news that Frank had died. He’d reached and passed the magnificent age of 96, and lived in his own home until close to the end.
Who might you impact?
I hope that, over the course of your career, there’s a Frank in your life – and that you choose to be that gracious, inspirational and pragmatic source of knowledge and friendship to colleagues, whatever your respective generations.
With whom might you connect or reconnect?
Frank wasn’t a mentor in the formal sense, yet he certainly impacted me. These days, we make career changes at a greater rate than in the past. That’s all the more reason to cherish and remain in touch with colleagues who’ve taken the care and time to befriend and support us in our own journeys. Particularly in these challenging times, a little kindness goes a long way. Do you have a former colleague you may wish to thank, or with whom you’d do well to connect and simply wish a great day? If so, what are you waiting for?