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July 2004
Gracious Praise of Mentors!

      Traveling through life, we all witness and learn from those we encounter along the way. Parents and teachers are among the first to be mentioned as having an important influence on our lives. In fact, nearly everyone with whom we come into contact leaves an impression on us in one way or another. In the midst of our realm of experience, certain individuals stand out for having made a more substantial impact on our lives. When we have the opportunity to work with them and learn from them, they become our mentors. While we can recall how they have affected our lives, we don’t often have the opportunity to reflect on the sum total of their contributions to our experience.

      In his eulogy for former President Reagan, former President George Bush remarked, “As his vice president for eight years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all my years of public life. I learned kindness, we all did. I also learned courage; the nation did.” Having spent over 40 years in public service, former President Bush had worked with many talented people. His comment was high praise to his mentor.

      Locally, we can learn from Billy Wireman as he recalls his experiences working with Adolph Rupp, Jack Eckerd, Bill Lee and Hugh McColl. His new book, Lessons from the Big Guys, is his opportunity to speak about and to heap praise upon four mentors in his life. Rupp, coach at the University of Kentucky, Eckerd, entrepreneur and founder of Eckerd stores, Lee of Duke Energy, and McColl of Bank of America, all became important mentors to Billy Wireman as they worked together on their mutual objectives. Billy describes his encounters with each of these gentlemen and comments on how they have helped shape his life, his ambitions and his performance.

      Remembering his grandmother, he recalls her advising him to “associate with capable people.” Billy Wireman has taken the time to tell us about those with whom he associated. He gives us a chance to learn from his working relationship with four very capable people in their worlds of work. Billy shows what a student he was of their leadership and how he put their lessons into practice. For over 40 years of his life, Billy was a mentored by the big guys. Billy was also a leader and mentor in his own right. Whether he was helping to build a basketball team or rebuilding a school, Billy was wise enough to get good help and was trusted by these four men as well as many others to set goals and perform on those objectives successfully.

      Whether you are new to Charlotte or an original Charlottean, you ought to pick up this book. Besides learning about Billy Wireman and the lessons he learned, you learn his perspective on two significant Charlotte leaders, Bill Lee and Hugh McColl. While reading his book, you cannot help reflecting on your own life and what you have learned from your own mentors. They may not be as well known as the big guys, but their effect on your life may be even more substantial.

      We are fortunate to learn from each other. Knowing how others influence us should make us even more aware of how we influence others. Influence works in both directions. Read Billy Wireman’s book and think about those who have influenced your life. You may want to write a few letters thanking others for what they have done for you.

     Speaking of mentors, one of my mentors, Glen Dwinnells, the publisher of Columbia Business Monthly and two other publications for nearly 20 years, died on June 17th. His contribution to economic development in South Carolina was enormous. His insights and thoughtfulness will be missed. He was a gentle soul with a quick wit and a smile that lit up a room. He was great encouragement to me and I will miss him. I am grateful to have known him. I learned much from him.
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