The first time I met Mr. John Bass was in 1996 when he interviewed me for a position within his department. Two questions stick out in my memory till this day.
John – What is your biggest challenge in life whether it’s something within your career or otherwise?
Me – Manhood. That may sound strange at the age of 29. But I didn’t have many manhood images growing up. So I am learning by O.J.T. And I struggle to find what it really means to be a man; what it looks like, what it feels like. How will it look to my children? It’s an ongoing thing but I embrace the challenge.
John – The people working in this departments have degrees and you don’t. I think you’re an excellent candidate. But why should I hire you over them? Don’t they deserve the opportunity more since they earned their degrees?
Me – I would not tell you not to hire any of those people. I can tell you that I’m hungry! I can tell you that if you hire me, I would make it my goal to make sure nobody could ever point to you and say, “You hired this guy and he blew it. I will never make you look bad and regret hiring me.”
This was the start of not only a wonderful working relationship, but an abiding mentor and friendship between John and I. His presence and demeanor allowed me to be totally honest with him in that interview. In most interviews I’ve experienced, people are not looking for honest but for suaveness. They want to be wowed. But I was just at a point in my life where I didn’t have it to give. I was naive and sincere. But I got my chance.
A few months later, I was let go because of corporate restructuring. I came to work one morning and noticed that my sign on password wasn’t working. On my third try John patted me on the shoulder. “Can I talk you for a minute?”
Off to this room away from the area he explained to me that they were cutting back. And the last 3 of us hired would be let go. He was sad. I was cool. I have always been the type to take bad news well especially during the begining stages. I was doing a great job and he was proud of my progress. I did nothing wrong. So I was satisfied with my efforts. I explained to John that I was happy and thankful for the opportunity. And that this was the best job I ever had. If I were blessed to make it in the door under such circumstances then God would give me something else. I smiled, he shed a tear. I hugged him.
A few months later I got a call from a friend of mine who still worked there and had originally referred me to the position. She said that they were hiring again and John wanted to know if I were working and if I were interested in coming back. I was working. But heck yea I wanted back in! He brought me back, gave me a 10% increase (for the trouble he said) and restored my original tenure. We had some great years working together after that.
But there’s more. We shared a mutual interest in sports; high school sports in particular so we talked and saw a few local high school basketball games. He loved going to St. Louis University (SLU) games and soon became a season ticket holder. On Thanksgiving, he and his family would visit relatives out of town. Often I got his traditional Saturday after Thanksgiving SLU game seat. Eventually the company made more changes. And he was offered a new position that was more suitable for his accounting degree and love for numbers. I was happy for him yet saddened at the end of an era. Though working in the same office area, he would no longer be my boss.
Less than a year after that, his position was eliminated with no other options offered. Our entire department was in shock. John was such a valuable member of our company. He was the brain of and developed the policies and procedures of our department. We all owed our livelihoods to the man. I mailed John a check and told him I loved him. He mailed it back assuring me that he was OK financially. He was in defeat as he was in victory. Gracious, introspective and strong.
I remember the department gave him a card and an little trinket calling it the FDR, “Walk Softly and Carry A Big Stick Award,” because he never lost his cool. He led with a strong hand but a soft touch. He knew how to pick battles and damn sure how to win them. He was humble, and he was mighty.
When word got out that John was sick, I rushed to the hospital to see him. The cancer had started to eat away as his body. But he fought like a soldier making his way back to his latest position with his last company. The same company I work at now. He was bored sitting at home he said. Needed something to do. Sitting in his office recently he talked about being tired all the time, and not too sure about how long he would be able to keep coming, even on the part time basis he maintained. But otherwise, he was optimistic about his health.
Imagine the shock I felt as I read the email saying he had gone on peacefully along side family and friends. As I said earlier, like John, normally I can take things and compartmentalize them into proper perspective, even death. But this one was different. I have been in a practical daze all week. There aren’t many men in my life that I can say are great. John is definitely one of them though.
Today we will bury my friend. And I am thankful most of all for his friendship, his mentor-ship, his sense of humor and his class. I will remember those smooth hats he wore during winter. That funky moustache he rocked still etched in 70’s fashion. His favorite music from groups like War and artist like Santana. I will remember his love for his wife and two adult children. I will remember the grace and dignity of a gentleman’s gentleman. And I will smile.
Rest In Peace JB. And thanks for everything. We’ll miss you. Heck man, I’ll miss you.