By Tim Hayes
At some moments, you can actually feel the hinges turning. Something elemental changes. The tectonic plates shift beneath you, and the trajectory of your life begins to arc in a new direction. Such a moment happened during the summer of 1991, when the phone rang in my little cubicle at the electric company in eastern Pennsylvania where I worked.
A cousin had placed the call, asking whether my wife and I, and our newborn daughter, would be interested in moving back to our hometown of Pittsburgh. The public relations agency where she worked had an opening for a writer. Naturally, the answer was yes, and by that September, we had come back home.
But the blessings from that initial phone call continued to flow, when I met Dale.
While I worked on the purely PR side of the agency, Dale ran a special national division that produced major events for some of the biggest corporate brands in the world. He was so good, they let him do it out of Pittsburgh, instead of basing him in Manhattan, where all the other major divisions resided.
Tall, talkative, hysterically funny, with fresh and amazing ideas gushing from every pore seemingly around the clock, Dale had the most expansive, energetic, exhausting personality of anyone I’d ever met. I used to say that trying to slow him down was like trying to lasso the sun. Impossible, and probably imprudent anyway.
Naturally, my cousin married him, bless her heart. Now Dale was part of the family, as well as a ball of energy at the office.
Within a year of our returning to Pittsburgh, however, headquarters decided to close the PR operation. At the same time, my doctor had given me an early (thank God) diagnosis of cancer, and my wife had become pregnant with our second child. Not a great time to be out of work. But Dale rode to the rescue, keeping me on as part of his special division, so that we had income and medical insurance, and could survive both emotionally and financially.
I still consider the next few months, working with Dale and his team, as some of the most exhilarating times of my career. He had a knack for bringing together brilliant talent that anyone else might not think to combine. Trying to keep up with the creative brainpower that generated dazzlingly different and enormously effective themes and events – plus the applied skill to execute those plans to perfection – helped me cut my teeth in corporate communications.
During one such massive effort, where Dale’s team produced a worldwide sales event at Walt Disney World for a global consumer products behemoth, another writer and I had been working feverishly for hours to punch up the language and message consistency of various presenters’ speeches. Other team members had been working just as diligently on their respective parts of this undertaking, when Dale poked his head in and called us all together.
“Whatever you’re doing, stop it immediately,” he told us, leading to a lot of eye-rolling and wondering what crazy curveball the client had thrown at Dale now. But that wasn’t it at all. “Go to your hotel room and put on your bathing suits,” he said. “We’re going out on the Jet-Skis!” And for the next couple of hours, we got to blow off a lot of steam having a blast on the Florida water. He knew how to take care of his people. We were ready to take on the world when we got back to business.
With Dale, you wanted to do your best not because you feared him or were intimidated by him. You did it because he had earned your best effort. The events he produced had lasting impact, both for the clients and for the professionals he engaged to bring them about. We wanted to make him look great, because that’s how he thought of us.
Mutual respect, built on trust and high expectations, opens the door to outstanding work. It is the essence of leadership. I learned that from Dale.
I also learned from Dale that the best time to shop for groceries is at 3 a.m., while the stores restock their shelves, everything’s fresh, and there are no lines. I learned that work should be fun, challenging, and kept in perspective. I learned that a big heart and a big mind can cheerfully coexist in the same person. I learned that a simple touch on the arm can disarm the coldest CEO, giving a breakthrough idea the chance to breathe. And I learned that having a funny red clown nose within arm’s reach at all times is an excellent idea, just because.
So thanks, Dale, for pulling my young family back from the brink of economic ruin. For inspiring great work from great people in such a great and generous manner. And for being a wonderful husband to my beloved cousin, a devoted Dad to your kids, and a source of joy, pride, and head-shaking amazement and amusement to the wider field of family and friends.
We lost Dale last week in a car accident, far, far too soon. But, in reality, we can’t lose him at all. Such a force of nature can never truly leave us. The ripples and waves of the impact he had on everyone he knew, loved, and touched refuse to be calmed.
After all, you can’t lasso the sun.
Copyright 2015 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting