We didn’t have yearbooks in elementary school. When the “big kids” were signing each other’s yearbooks at the end of the year, we young kids looked on longingly. But we were resourceful. We each had small autograph books which we circulated near the end of the school year. One day I realized the other kids were having not only their friends sign but their families, too. The object became who could collect the most autographs.
In an effort to increase my numbers, I asked my father to sign my book. Little did I realize his autograph would be the one I would remember long after I’d forgotten the others. This is what he wrote:
As you sail down the stream of life
In your little birch canoe,
May you have a jolly time,
And room enough for two.
As I read this autograph now, I’m moved by the wish for a happy life for me. He also told me I could be anything I wanted to be … as long as it was legal.
He left other words for me, not in an autograph book, but in advice. When I heard the words as a young person, I probably rolled my eyes or shrugged in typical daughter fashion. But he’d be happy to know I heard them and still carry them with me.
Take care of your car and your car will take care of you.
Never buy the best house on the block.
Never buy on the edge of a development.
Look after your money and your money will look after you.
Always keep learning.
He illustrated the “always keep learning” mantra with behavior more than with words. He was an active reader of literature and how-to journals and magazines. He was a letter writer to newspaper editors, city, state, and national leaders. He took correspondence courses. He reinvented himself a number of times … from banking, to accountant, to entrepreneur, to real estate broker. He was the source of my own “reinvention gene.”
Mostly, my dad valued being of good character and impressed that on me. Born in the province of Ontario, Canada, the eldest son of a successful farmer and cattle drover, my father entered the workforce at 16 … in banking. Below are excerpts from a letter he wrote to the manager of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in 1991, when a call came out in a local newspaper for information on the history of the bank. I think character comes through. (I’ve omitted paragraphs naming all the managers and employees and a description of the structure.)
Early in 1916 I became an employee of the Imperial Bank of Canada, Humberstone Branch. About two years later I was transferred to the Port Colborne branch.
My starting salary at age 16 was $300.00 per year. Each additional year of employment would be accompanied by a $100.00 raise. A condition of my employment was that my father and my uncle each provide Imperial Bank a bond of $7,000.00 covering me.
A short time after Mr. Rolph, manager at the Port Colborne Branch, also became manager of the Humberstone Branch where I worked, an event occurred that involved both branches. The bank safe in Humberstone, which had a time clock combination, failed to open on a Monday morning following the bank’s closing the previous Friday afternoon. It had been set mistakenly to open Monday evening. The situation was explained early by phone to Mr. Rolph at home, as soon as the first employee arrived and discovered the problem.
Mr. Rolph quickly arrived at the Humberstone Branch and went into action, immediately inquiring who had locked the safe the previous Friday. One of the bookkeepers said he did. Mr. Rolph gave said bookkeeper a short but blistering dressing down about his responsibilities and the position into which he had placed the bank. Mr. Rolph then told me to arm myself with the bank’s revolver, get on my bicycle, and go pick up a package wrapped in newspaper from the Imperial Bank – Port Colborne Branch, strap it onto the luggage carrier of the bicycle, and get back as quickly as possible. I carried out my instructions, and the Humberstone Branch opened on time with money ready for its customers – as if nothing had happened.
A day or two later Mr. Rolph told me that the bookkeeper’s mistake could have happened to almost any of the bank’s employees. He confessed it had once happened to him. He said the reason he was so emphatic with the bookkeeper was to impress him so much it would not happen again. I knew he was also telling me something important.
The Humberstone Branch had a sub-branch at Marshville, Ontario, open one day a week. To me the weekly trip with the manager to Marshville was a semi-holiday. It provided a break from the ordinary routine. The manager was a careful driver. If the road was muddy, wet or slippery, he would go slowly. But if the road was dry, the speed limit to him was the top speed the bank’s Ford could make – 40 mph. At this speed, the touring car’s top would billow out and a rolling mound of dust would follow the car and make quite a show. He often allowed me to drive.
About the time of the Imperial Bank’s safe locking episode, an event of my own causing happened. It happened one busy Friday when a customer walked in and shoved a check for $400.00 in the teller’s cage wicket and said, “All in twenty dollar bills, please.” He seemed to be in a hurry. I checked by referring to one of the bank’s ledgers that there were ample funds in the account to cover the check. I then discovered the packet containing twenties was nearly empty and that I would have to open a new packet. After this, I counted out 30 twenty dollar bills and shoved them out the wicket to the customer with the remark that he could, if he liked, check it before leaving the bank. He said, “No time now, but if it’s wrong, you’ll hear from me.” He then walked out.
After the bank closed for the weekend, I attempted to balance the cash and found out it was $200.00 short. After further checking, I discovered my error of giving the customer six hundred rather than four hundred dollars. I reported the mistake to the manager. He told me to call the customer. I called the man’s office but was told he was not in. I was told by my manager to call that office again Monday first thing.
Monday morning arrived, but before I could call the customer, he walked in the bank, said good morning and told me he had some money for me. I told him I hoped it was two hundred dollars. It was all there. I thanked him profusely and praised him for his honesty. He assured me anyone could make a mistake – it’s part of learning – and walked out.
I regard the two years with Imperial Bank a real college course in business.
My dad wrote the next few words in a separate note to me:
I wasn’t going to include the portion about the two hundred dollar overpayment, but without it, the letter seemed to make me some sort of a hero of Imperial Bank.
Thank you, to you Dad, for teaching me valuable words and imparting to me the value of character and behavior. I’ll close with Happy Father’s Day to you!
I know you can hear me.