One of my very best friends died in early December. He should have lived forever, because that’s what ought to happen with good guys. We need their example, their inspiration. We need to see with our own eyes that humanity is not defined by leaders who disappoint us with displays of frightening callousness and dishonesty or, far worse, by barbaric religious zealots who murder a hundred school kids in a blaze of insane, furious bloodlust.
In a world dominated by such truly awful examples of humanity gone way wrong, Mike Pennington was the perfect antidote. A southern gentleman from Memphis, a supremely civilized fellow, he was respectful of others even when respect wasn’t deserved.
As the cliché has it, he’d give you the shirt off his back if he saw that you needed it. And then he’d throw in his shoes too.
Generosity was second nature.
I’m writing this 10 days after his death but an empty feeling lingers, so you’ll have to pardon the melancholy, reflective mood.
I’m trying to turn Mike’s life, even his dying, into something constructive for all of us. Maybe there will be New Year’s resolutions in here for you. There certainly are for me.
Some of you will have known Mike, though most will not. Before retiring a few years back, he spent 25 years as Meritor’s communications chief, though he started as a trucking journalist like yours truly. I’d known him pretty much since day one.
He distinguished himself at Meritor with his loyalty and his imagination, and ensured that the company was always top of mind among the press corps. But he was also generous with his time and skill on behalf of the industry at large. He was active in many organizations, including ACT 1, the Allied Committee for the Trucking Industry, serving recently as president. He’d been involved in the industry image program, Trucking Moves America Forward, and was also vice chairman of the American Trucking Associations’ Communications and Image Policy Committee. He was involved in the Trucker Buddy International pen-pal program, Truck Writers of North America, Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week, and New Aftermarket Leaders of Tomorrow.
In other words, a guy who loved trucking and who happily worked for its benefit behind the scenes, expecting nothing in return.
Mike was also a big proponent of encouraging and mentoring young journalists and others in the industry, and that may be the quality in him that I admire most. And likely the one that you and I both can work with best.
I’ll give the floor for a moment to my very good friend and former Today’s Trucking Editor Stephen Petit, because he wrote about this very poignantly-and accurately-in a comment on the story I posted online about Mike’s passing.
“Mike Pennington was a wonderful man,” Stephen said. “The thing I will remember the most is how artfully he could make you feel like there was a place for you in a world that felt too big, or that your feet could in fact find the sand when you were certain you were in over your head. If you know someone-anyone- who needs a little bit of encouragement, please stop what you’re doing and offer a few kind words. It would honor my friend and make you feel better, too.” Every one of us needs a boost from time to time, but few of us have Mike’s ability to drop the ego entirely and help someone else feel worthy, valuable, and able to tackle the next hurdle with a little more confidence than the last one. Mike was probably my own biggest booster, but it turns out he played that same role for dozens-if not hundreds-of others too.
So if you’re a veteran driver, instead of ridiculing the rookie who’s looking less than wonderful at backing his rig up to the dock, sidle over with a smile on your face and offer a tip. And if you see he’s done it well, say so.
If you’re a salesman and you see that your newbie rival has landed a good contract, say congrats. It’ll cost you nothing but it will be like gold to that youngster.
And if you’re the biggest cheese in the outfit, make damn sure that you know when any of your people has succeeded and give them a pat on the back. Look out for the ones who are struggling and find a way to help them over the hump. A simple positive comment might well make all the difference.
I’ll call this Mike’s Rule and I promise to make it mine in 2015.
Happy new year, people! TT.
You can reach Rolf at 416-614-5825 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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