Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

Running the Rapids

homeSlideshow9Last summer, I had the opportunity to participate in a regional chamber of commerce activity at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.  At the conclusion of a meeting, four of us chamber execs braved the challenge and took on the whitewater course.     The center, set on the banks of the Catawba River, is Charlotte’s newest national attraction.  The Class III/IV rapids were designed to test the skill level of healthy outdoor enthusiasts.

Let’s just set the record straight.  The four chamber of commerce executives who climbed into that raft were not about to be accused of being healthy outdoor enthusiasts possessing a high degree of skill when it comes to fighting rapids.  In addition, our guide that afternoon, a young fellow named Danny, knew he had a raft full of “desk riders” strapping on their vests, armed with our mighty oars.    Danny, it turns out, was a bit of a Sadist from the moment we left the load in.  He took delight in heading straight for the most turbulent rapids and positioning our craft against the rush of water which enveloped our small raft.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Forrest Gump with Lt. Dan strapped high in the crow’s nest of the shrimping boat, taking on the onslaught of hurricane winds, you have a great mental picture of Danny.  He took great pride as members of our rubber raft were thrown in all different directions, spitting water, and rowing as if our lives depended on it.

As I look back, that experience speaks much to how we approach the challenges of our occupations.  For many years I have addressed members of our chamber of commerce at a quarterly new member orientation.  On those occasions I have likened my role at the chamber to that of a ship captain who gets his orders from the Board of Directors as to the next destination.  I plot the course and steam away, with activities on board to keep everyone (our members) entertained.ship

It is our hope, at the end of the journey, the passengers would have enjoyed the cruise so much, they make a return trip again and again.  In reality, my role is much more like the rafting excursion.  Our environment has changed dramatically over the last decade with new challenges and opportunities facing our growing region.  While we plot a course toward a planned destination, we are often met with swirling whitewater rapids. If we don’t adjust quickly, they can capsize our craft or jettison our passengers.

We must execute quick decisions, adjusting to smooth clear waters as well as running rapids.  A small lapse of attention or team members paddling out of sync could spell rough times for the organization or business.   We can pilot through the turbulent rapids, working together as a team and adjusting to the chaotic conditions which face our organizations or we can paddle through a river of doubt facing the swirling waters of constant change.  The choice is ours.


March 13, 2009 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , | Leave a comment

Spinning Away

spinningRemember when spinning used to be something you did when you were a kid going round and round on the playground Round-A-Bout?  Today, its taken on a whole new meaning.  Spin is what political handlers do when they tell you what you “really” saw and heard after you saw and heard it.  Watch any national debate and immediately after the event is over, political advisors are falling over themselves to get to the nearest microphone to tell you their side of what just happened.

Many of you have read the stories of my Granddaddy Russell.  Granddaddy was a farmer who could pretty much see through anybody’s spin.  I know firsthand because I considered myself a “master spinner” from the time I could talk.  Grandmamma didn’t call it spin. She claimed I was just flat telling a story.  One afternoon, I was giving my best spin on how the grades marked on my report card didn’t accurately reflect how well I was doing in school.

Granddaddy sat down, took off his hat, and took a long swallow on his ice water.  I knew that was a sure sign I was in for one of his colorful stories. Granddaddy asked, “Billy, have I ever told you about Uncle Earnest’s chickens?”  “No, I don’t think so,” I replied.

“Well, your great uncle had these chickens in a large hen house when they  started to fight, wounding and killing each other. One day, Earnest got this advice from a retired state representative who lived up the road and always had an answer for everything.     “Add some uncooked grits to the chickens’ food,” said the stately politician, “it will calm them down.”Kenny_Delmar_as_Senator_Claghorn

After a week Uncle Earnest came back to the sage and said, “My chickens continue to die. What should I do?”   “Add apple cider to their drinking water, that will help for sure,” said the representative .  A week passed, and again your uncle went up to see the wise man. “The dang chickens are still quarrelling. Do you have any more answers?”

“I can give you more advice,” answered the retired politician. “The real question is whether you have any more chickens.”     Like the boy who cried wolf one too many times, eventually my uncle realized while the retired representative had a different remedy for the same situation, his chickens would one day run out.  While my grandparent’s love was boundless, eventually my stretching the truth would have its limits.

In any election season with all the reasons why you should support or oppose something – you need to ask yourself – Does it benefit my family, my business, and my community?    While you may not have a child in school, does paying for school construction benefit our thriving business community?  What about mass transit?  According to the City of Charlotte, the average Mecklenburg County citizen spends about $39 a year to support our transit tax.  Is it worth the price of a” Big Mac” hamburger a month to make sure we have bus service for those people who don’t have cars or who choose to take a bus to their jobs?

It would be a real welcome change to turn on the television or radio and hear an elected official give a response that was free of political spin.  Just a simple answer to simple questions.  Instead we hear someone say this and twelve different people have twleve different interpretations of what was said.  Sometimes I think we’re just spinning out of control.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , | Leave a comment

The ghosts from days that never were

     Not long ago while attending my 30th high school reunion, one of my classmates and I struck up a conversation.  We were talking about the good old days when he said with a little hesitation, “I kind of figured you and Lynn would get together.”

     Janet Lynn was perhaps my first real crush.  This picturesque southern belle had an infectious smile that melted boy’s hearts.   I was smitten from the first time I met her.

     We sat together at ballgames where I would sneak stolen glances. Often, she would sit beside me at lunch, snatching my soda, returning it after her sip with a smile.  The rest of the lunch I treated the chalice like the Holy Grail.

     In all that time though, we never dated.  It always seemed either she was dating someone steady or I was in the middle of a forgotten high school romance.  My mom often encouraged me to ask her out anyway.  Mamas’ tend to know how their kids feel even when words aren’t exchanged on the subject.

     Years later, Lynn saw me at a restaurant and we caught up on old times.  Looking down at the table, in a much softer voice, she sighed, “Too bad we never really dated.”  Then she abruptly looked up and said, “Hey, maybe we dispense with the dating and just get married.  What do ya’ think?”

     I nearly strangled on the drink I was sipping.  Struggling a quick laugh, I immediately changed the subject.  A little later I hugged her goodnight and placed a little kiss on her cheek.  The moment, her perfume, the warmth of her cheek when I embraced her, are the ghosts that haunt the memories that never were.

              I’ve often thought of what might have been.  Lynn and I were very much alike and chances are, had I asked her out, it would be just a teenage summer romance to remember.  Instead, I’ll always wonder what might have been.    Those memories are the ghosts from yesterdays that never were.


March 13, 2009 Posted by | Personal | Leave a comment

Show and Tell

 A9FI6ZDCAVGQ4WOCAN4BY1PCAOD26CBCAH8E45SCA33BWRJCATQ7XQUCA5UE43FCATODTJOCANKLO1ECANKS2VZCA5D0953CAQAS8KWCAJMVN6KCANVUWPTCAMCHGTZCAQXCWCUCAKB3A98CA3XNIHZCA8D9CX1A couple of weeks ago, I was visiting a friend when just before bedtime his little boy Bobby popped his head around the corner to tell him goodnight.  After hugging him tightly to his chest, the dad asked little Bobby if he wanted to show me his project for school in the morning.  The new day brought his first “show and tell experience” in front of the class.     Almost in an instant Bobby was back with a little box of shark’s teeth he and Tim collected on the beach during their summer vacation.  It was a collection they started a couple of summers ago.

I listened as Bobby pulled each tooth out carefully describing in wide eyed wonder just what that shark must have looked like.  “This guy was huge…”, he explained, with a special emphasis on huge as he held out his biggest tooth.    I too recalled when I was in grade school, I was asked to bring something or someone of significance to school the next day to share with the class.  As a precocious little tike, I decided to bring “myself”.

As the first born child, my mother took great pains to detail every significant event of my childhood.  My baby book was filled with photos and captions detailing the particular moment.  I can still recall taking the baby book down from the shelf and stripping many of the photos from the book and creating my own little project.     The next morning I shared with my classmates the most significant something or someone to me – “me”!  Not satisfied with my mother’s captions, I created a new explanation for each photo, each with their own creative and adventurous story.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, those photos never made their way back to their original origin, perhaps strewn across some playground somewhere.  Needless to say she was never happy about that.   Perhaps Bobby will one day collect shark’s teeth on the beach with his little boy or girl.  Regardless, the experience walking hand in hand with his dad, doing something together, will always hold a treasured place in his heart.  It is an experience he will never forget.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , | Leave a comment

A Christmas Tale

ChristmasI cannot think about Christmas and the holidays without thinking of the Christmas Eve’s spent at my grandparents.  The bountiful meals grandmamma Feemster and Russell prepared, the Church pageants, and yes…the multitude of gifts under the trees.  And while I will cherish those times, I often think back to an event which touched my heart and perhaps set in motion actions which led to my career today.

It was the Christmas of 1984 and I was chairman of the Rock Hill Jaycees Christmas Charities event.  We were given a list of 30 or so families a little down on their luck that needed a helping hand.  This wasn’t your Bing Crosby White Christmas.  Rather it was your typical cold, rainy southern winter evening where you’d much rather be indoors watching TV rather than delivering food and toys in the rain.

The family that I was given was several miles out of town.  A fellow Jaycee named  Joe Stinson volunteered to team up with me.  We drove for what seemed forever in the country, down muddy slick roads, until at last we ventured on an old house sitting alone in the dark dreary night.

SteppingJunior Chamber Logo0001 up on the creaking porch, I pulled back the screen door, and knocked on the window pane of the door as Joe began unloading the groceries and toys.  A woman came to the door appearing a little puzzled as to her late night visitors.  I explained we were from the Jaycees and were there to help.  Tears slid down her cheek as she explained she was sure no one was coming and she had told the kids there wasn’t going to be a Christmas this year.  The lady said her husband had left them and it was just her and the children now.

She wiped back the tears as she talked proudly of her little boys as they could be heard in the background tearing through the house.  Eventually, one of the little tikes ran up and threw his arms tightly around his mother’s waist.  “Mama, mama, who is that?,” he asked looking up at Joe and I.  “That’s Santa Clause,” she replied with a bright smile as she rubbed her hand across his head.

The lady thanked and hugged us as we made our way to the door. “God bless you both and Merry Christmas,” she said as she closed the door gently behind us.

 Joe and I drove the long trip back to Rock Hill.  I turned the radio off and we listened to the sounds of the wipers as they scraped along the windshield.  As we neared the city, Joe turned to me and said, “Little brother, we really were…,”  Joe’s voice choked off as he looked the other way staring back out the passenger window.  Joe didn’t need to finish his sentence.  We were.   That night – we really were.

I will always remember the family gatherings, the wide eyed wonder when I surveyed our den after Santa arrived, and the other magical moments that make this time of year so special.  And I will also remember the night we brought an evening of happiness to a mother and her children.  A mother who thought no one remembered. – no one would come.  A night when tears were wiped away, hope and promise filled the air, and we really were.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) | , , , , | 3 Comments