I grew up in a large lower-income family. My Dad worked in the oil patch and we followed the work. We moved often and my siblings and I changed schools often. When I became an adult, I did what my family did . . . I followed the work in the oil patch. It was actually a pretty fun experience for a young single guy . . . I made pretty good money, drove a fine automobile, lived in nice motels, ate in nice restaurants, and sent my laundry out to be done for me. Then I met a pretty little read-haired gal who changed my life . . . and the direction of my life. I soon found myself married and living in a small wood-framed house, making $100 per month house payments. I struggled trying to find a job that I liked and at which I could earn a living for my new wife. Sandy and I rocked along for few years with her working part-time in a law office and me doing an assortment of jobs. Then, a pretty little big-eyed gal came along that changed our lives forever . . . we named her Courtney. Now, I had to get serious about earning a living—not just simply trying to pay the bills.
With nothing except a high school diploma, I actually managed to land an office job! I became the Executive Director of the Burnet Housing Authority. Pretty big title for a $400 per month part-time job. Soon into the job, I began to receive letters from the U. S. government—addressed to me. Most of those letters were intended to take me to the woodshed over some due-date or report that had been missed. Weary of all of that, I wrote a letter to the government that my legal secretary / wife typed up for me. The letter was short and to the point . . . I pointed out that if I was to be held responsible for following a set of rules, then I thought it was only right that I be provided with those rules . . . DUH . . . the Lord gave the Ten Commandments to Israel on tablets of stone! Not too long after I sent my letter to the government, a fellow came to see me. He was a mean-looking son of a gun, wearing a goofy bow tie and carrying a large black case. He entered my office with a great deal of authority and scared the snot out of me! He laid my dangled letter on the counter between us and asked if I had written the thing. I sheepishly acknowledged that I had . . . but I let him know that I had help from a legal secretary and if there was punishment to be dished out, I felt that she ought to get most of it since she was the one who knew what she was doing. He surprised me and said that he actually liked the letter and appreciated my position about wanting to know the rules to which I was being held. He went on to say that the rules had been provided to my office and the task he and I needed to address was to locate those rules. We did locate them, in a couple of old A/C filter boxes back in the maintenance shop! The fellow I had replaced was a retired Bird Colonel . . . who obviously had a low opinion of and respect for government rules and bureaucracy. As we unboxed those rules (called Handbooks), he showed me how they were to be arranged into binders and organized. Moreover, he showed me how the handbook system worked and how they were numbered . . . and it just clicked for me . . . I really connected with it and embraced the system. Frankly, there had been few things in my life that I had grasped as quickly.
Over the next couple of years, I would spend untold hours reading those handbooks and making notes in the margins. My new friend, Paul, would call me from time to time as ask me a question like, “Did you read Handbook 7560.2, part 860.4, paragraph 6, D, 2?”, and then abruptly hang up. I soon learned to keep a note pad and a pen near the phone on my desk so I would be ready to scribble the citation down for reference after he hung up. I would immediately go find the thing and read it and call him back and say something like, “Ok, I understand the error in my work and why you asked the question.” It actually became a challenge for me to not get caught flat-footed, so I studied diligently. Little did I know then that would pay huge dividends up the road. After a few years of doing that sort of thing, I started my own business—a management firm and consultant business. My friend and mentor Paul would later come to work for me. That was a big day for me!
One afternoon I got a call from the Housing Chief of the San Antonio HUD office in which he asked that I come to see him the next week . . . giving me a time and date. I didn’t really view it as a request . . . more along the lines of a summons. When I arrived at his office he said, “Friend, we have a bit of a problem in that we need to have a regional training session, but none of my staff are willing to do the training if you are in the training room.” I was dumbfounded and asked what he meant. He chuckled and said, “That darned Paul Stone over-trained you and you know our regulations and handbooks better than they do, so we have concluded that you are to do the training!” With that, he pointed to a stack of material on the corner of his desk and said that was the new material over which I was to train his staff and my peers from across South Texas. I was immediately quite ill and declared that I simply could not do such a thing. But I did and I was rotten at it . . . and vowed to never again be put in such a terrible position, but folks complimented me and encouraged me and I began to get requests to do training for a fee.
Over the next 30 years, I would do many training sessions, professional seminars, and even some after-dinner speaking. It all started because a crusty old guy saw more in a kid than that kid ever saw in himself . . . and the old guy set about trying to help that kid develop a skill-set, learn a business, and gain the confidence to venture out of his comfort zone. I often wonder where I might be today if the Lord had not crossed my path with a man named Paul! Paul has gone on to the next life, but I remember him fondly. In fact, Courtney and I talked about him just yesterday when she chuckled and said, “He bought my first book and always encouraged me to read!” I chuckled and asked, “You, too.”