#143 Personal Words (2005)

All Rights Reserved © 2005 Thomas W. Day

For the last four years, I was blessed to work for a man I respected and trusted.  A couple of those years were the best experience in my working life.  I'm not saying the company, the school, for which I've worked has been respectable or trustworthy; just the man.  However, it has been a rare enough experience just having the opportunity to work for someone with positive qualities that it has spoiled me for the usual management riffraff.  This man, Michael, quit today.  The school's management didn't think Michael's leaving was important enough to let the rest of us know, but the word spread through the staff like a fire of despair. 

The last year and a half has been tolerable, but in decline.  The people who own and mismanage the school are the usual lot; boy-men who couldn't make a sane decision if their inheritances depended upon it.  But that hasn't mattered for the past twelve years of the school's existence, because Michael could always be counted on to make the important decisions for the organization.  While the owners rattled around in their palatial offices, posing for portraits and polishing their egos, Michael hired staff, distributed resources, settled disputes, and moved the school from a dilapidated warehouse in Minneapolis to a shining new facility in St. Paul.  When every major step was completed, the owners would make a hand-waving appearance and express wonder at their miraculous accomplishments. 

Other than being a bit irritating, most of us didn't mind their ignorance, because Michael knew who did the real work and he made us into the kind of team that rarely exists outside of myth and dreams.  Today, members of that team met in hallways, the parking garage, and at least one bar to mourn the end of a workplace era.  I heard expressions of anger, disappointment, sorrow, and pain from people working in sales, maintenance, administration, and (above all in an educational institution) the teachers.  The loss of no other person in the school could have inspired so much emotion, and we've had some sad losses in the last couple of years.  If both of the school's founders had died in the floods of New Orleans, a bare fraction of that passion would have been generated.  The feeling in the school was similar to what I experienced in 1963, as a school boy, when President Kennedy was assassinated.  Hearts were broken, spirits were crushed, bonds of friendship and common goals were damaged. 

Of course, the mismanagers were oblivious to all of this because they were distracted, as usual, by illusions found in their office mirrors. 

As I sat in a bar with friends, fellow instructors, listening to plans for revolt, alternative business ideas, descriptions of escape routes, and general melancholy, I tried to come to peace with my own future.  Not long ago, I planned to spend the rest of my working life with this group.  For the first time in my adult life, I had been part of what felt like an indestructible force; like an NFL offensive line, and I was watching it dissipate like a beautiful sunset fading to darkness.  For me, the school isn't a serious place without Michael there.  What we do, suddenly, seems pointless without his encouragement, honest faith, and vision for our institution and our students.  Michael believed in what we did, he supported it.  Michael had taught every class we taught.  He understood our industry and our technology.  He recognized and attempted to fix problems before we saw them coming.  Even if the industry we represented is mostly in the past, he believed that we could guide our students into the future, making music and changing lives.  He created the school's mission and he believed in it.

What's left is about money, power, and the usual suspects are in control.  Something extraordinary has been turned ordinary.  It's incredible how easy that is to do.  Destruction is always easier than creation, but it's not as inspiring.

September 2005


  1. Anonymous12/31/2015

    Harsh words, but accurate. Those were good times and it is worth having them documented. I worked with McKern at the old school and he is a class act.

  2. When I wrote this in 2005 it was pretty obvious that I didn't expect to be at the school much longer. Somehow, I extended that to spring of 2013 before retiring. It never was the same place after that, though. There were ups and downs, but the ups never made it to the closely coupled organization I wrote about here and the downs were as dismal as the worst jobs I've ever had.