Thank Your Mentors

Bill Neinast

The belief of Too Soon Old; Too Late Smart is questionable.  I just closed the book on my ninth decade, and I am still not old.

Maybe that is because getting old is a state of mind.  My body occasionally indicates that it may be beyond what I want, but my mind generally disagrees.  So any smarts I have must be premature.

Those fledgling smarts are due to mentors I have had along the way.

First and foremost are my parents.  They taught me to be self-reliant and self-sufficient.  

Dad’s guiding philosophy was, “A man’s word is his bond; a handshake is a binding contract.”

That philosophy is depicted in a painting commissioned by Germania Insurance Corporation on one of its anniversaries.  It depicts a one-seat roadster parked in a field by a mule drawn plow.  

The car’s driver, presumably an insurance salesman, is in a suit and standing by the plow, shaking hands with the farmer in overalls.  

The caption is “The Handshake.”  It says it all.

Next was Hays Bowers of Caldwell.  He was my first and only law partner.  

In three months, he taught me more about being a lawyer than I learned in three years of law school.  One of his insightful observations was that the biggest problem within families is the pocketbook.

Then came Colonel Richard deForest Cleverly, a former English teacher at West Point.  He taught me an abiding love for the beauty of English grammar.  

Now, a long, convoluted sentence is among my worst irritants.  That is worse than dragging a piece of chalk across a chalk board.

Not to be left out is Lieutenant General Willard Pearson, Commanding General, V-Corps, U.S. Army, Germany. 

While a lieutenant colonel, I was assigned as the Staff Judge Advocate of V-Corps, a colonel’s slot.  Before  assuming that assignment, I was told that General Pearson did not like lawyers.  He said at his first staff conference after assuming command that he ran the outfit, not the lawyers.

I could fill this page with anecdotes of my year in V-Corps,.  This verbatim account of my reporting for duty, however, sets the stage for one of my most memorable years of service.

“ Colonel Neinast reporting for duty, Sir.”

“ Did Tenhet [my predecessor] tell you my policy on Chapter 10 discharges?” 

“Yes Sir.  And I do not agree with it.”

“Well, that’s it.  Dismissed!”

Notwithstanding that icy start, we became close friends and stayed in contact until his death.  I was privileged to have him pin the eagles on my shoulders when I was promoted to colonel. 

Among the smarts I learned from General Pearson was that when you make a decision, move on to the next problem.  Do not look back and second guess the decision. 

That philosophy was embodied in another meeting when I had to report to him that I had made a serious mistake in a letter that he had signed and dispatched. 

His handling of mistakes like that went like this:

“ Did you determine how you made the mistake?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Have you taken action to prevent the mistake again?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“OK.  Next.”

My service with General Pearson had become so enjoyable that it was difficult to accept a year’s curtailment of my assignment in order to attend the Army War College.   I was told that if I did not go then, I might not be selected again.

Finally, not to be forgotten among my mentors is Jeannine, my loving wife of more than 67 years.  She showed me and taught me how to rear three sons and a daughter into fine, productive adults who embody the principles of their grandparents.

My greatest pleasure has been watching them pass those principles on to their children.

So here’s the perspective.

Your beliefs, philosophies, and practices are molded by mentors on your life’s journey. 

There may be just a few or many, but they are there and you will not appreciate them until later.

So sit back now. Identify some of your mentors, and thank them any way you can.

Good luck.



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