Losing a Mentor
It is said that in Greek mythology, Mentor was a friend of Odysseus, and Odysseus placed Mentor in charge of his son Telemachus when he left for the Trojan War.
Mentor was a faithful friend; he was wise, sober and loyal. Telemachus was just entering manhood and was very self-conscious about his duty and his father’s reputation as a hero, which he felt he must live up to. Because of Mentor’s relationship with Telemachus, Mentor has been adopted in English as a term meaning someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less experienced colleague.
Today, most would agree that a mentor is someone that has enormous influence on our lives. Mentors are people that you trust to provide feedback and advice. Since they don’t have any “skin in the game,” mentors provide valuable opinions. You feel better after a discussion, yourelax and you’re more confident in pursuing the path you have selected.
George was such a mentor for me.
I can remember the moment like it was yesterday. I was 29 years old. I had finished a good year in the Sales department and my boss Luc said, “Hey Paul …George wants to talk you.” We were a rather small mobile phone company back then and whenever anyone mentioned “George” you didn’t need any clarification. Luc added, “George has an opening in his marketing team and wants to know if you would be interested to talk about it?”
My heart stopped. To get someone like George DeMarchi to proactively call you to discuss career options made me feel like a kid in a candy store. “Of course,” I said to Luc.
The phone interview was momentous. In George’s soft demeanor he thanked me for taking the time to discuss this job, yet anyone would have been honored to meet George and especially to be part of his team, given the clout, influence and charisma that this individual had developed. Half-way through the interview I felt the urge to interrupt him and say: “Yes…when do I start?” Luckily, I was able to temper my unbridled enthusiasm to let the man finish speaking. We agreed, and I moved my family to Montreal to start my new Marketing Manager job a month later.
After meeting my peers and staff, George shared his values and plans with me. The rest is text book perfect. Why?
Well, now looking back on my career, to be exposed to this kind of boss was one of those truly magical moments. You’re provided with an exciting opportunity to work for a tireless leader who was bright, but would never imply that he was. He would trust us and talk to us. He could combine kindness and experience while focusing on business issues; he had a strategic mind and at the same time would command tremendous respect and loyalty from his peers, bosses and team members.
George discouraged destructive comments about peers in our organization. He had impeccable listening skills and he was eloquent in convincing you to see things his way. I was constantly amazed watching this fellow in action.
A few years later, George left corporate life to start his own business. We were all shocked, but we all knew he would do well in his new endeavors – which he did.
We kept in touch over the years. He would give me advice and really unique ways of looking at business issues, which were enough to put me back on track. Despite having moved abroad, I tried to call him once per year.
Last year, I received news from a fellow team member that George was battling cancer.
George and I reconnected as he explained the ordeal of his aggressive type of cancer. No matter what kind of hell he was going through with exploratory treatments and tests, George was predictable, consistent and optimistic. He was not ready to give up and had a kind word for all the staff that were treating him at the hospital.
However, other complications crept up and they weakened him even more.
When I tried to call him, he replied that his condition had deteriorated for him and he suggested calling the following week. I did. We spoke for only a few minutes because George explained to me that he wanted to spend any of his remaining time with his family.
Clearly, I wasn’t ready for this kind of conversation. I tried to open up as best as I could by telling him that I appreciated what he had done for me; that he was my mentor and a true friend. I told him I missed him and to take care of himself. I could tell in his voice that this would be the last time we would speak.
George passed away two weeks later on April 5, 2020.
As I attempt to deal with this loss, I have to admit that I am not doing very well. Life is indeed unfair when your mentor gets ill and passes away. I will indeed miss this role model. I will miss his teachings, his insights, but most of all I will miss his kindness and generosity.
Although saddened by losing my first career mentor, I’m comforted that George also excelled in other parts of his life as a loving father, a caring husband and community builder.
I hope that one day I will be able to emulate his greatness. This is what a mentor teaches you – to be really great in your own way, your career, your life, and with the people that surround you.
George… your guidance, charm and good nature will live in our hearts forever!