As we put final touches on the cover story (please see “The Power & Influence 100” by Dayna Dunteman on page 118), I paused to reflect on a few people whose power or influence have impacted my life.
Sister Mary Agnita, my teacher in sixth, seventh and eighth grades, had tremendous power over me. She was barely 5 feet tall in her habit, but to me she seemed as imposing as NBA giant Shaquille O’Neal in a one-on-one. Witty and demanding, she invoked my admiration. A positive word from “Stir,” as we phonetically called the nuns, filled me with pride; she continually spurred me to do better. She possessed physical power, too—on a couple of occasions when I was misbehaving, she pinched the upper edge of my trapezius muscle between her thumb and index finger, instantly rendering me immobile.
My father was perhaps the most powerful person in my life, although he did not push me one way or another careerwise. He was a stern fellow with eight children and a medical practice, and much of the time I struggled to get his attention. Just the sound of his brogues clacking across the tile floor as he approached our bedrooms gave us kids pause. My boyhood friends were a bit afraid of him; they still remember being forewarned by me not to call him “Mister”—“Doctor” was the correct term. Perhaps life’s greatest power is to give or hold back love and attention, intentionally or not.
Bob Kieve was my first boss in media sales. Bob wielded power with discipline in thought, action and especially the written word. Before owning radio stations, this Harvard graduate worked for a time as a presidential speechwriter. During my first year working for him, he was brutal in his criticism of my radio commercial copy writing. He assisted my transition from emphasizing the quantity of words (leftover from college) to their quality, from BS to brevity.
Elsie, the elderly, long-employed receptionist where I got my first job, showed me the difference between power and influence. I had no experience for the job I wanted and did not fare well in my interviews, but kept returning until Elsie grew to like me. Eventually, she told the sales manager he had to hire me. I’d like to think my obvious brilliance got me the position; rather, it was Elsie’s influence.
Our children wield incredible power over us. For about two decades, sports, braces, summer plans, foodstuffs, TV viewing and even our friends were determined by our children’s interests. Nearly a decade ago, after studying up on second-home ownership, we bought a cabin in the Sierra. Despite the reams of data I had read, nowhere was this reality written: that one’s children will hold sway over if, when and for how long you actually go to your second home. When they did not want to leave their friends on weekends, our kids’ decisions were final. That should be in the literature!
Finally, Sarge the Cat has big power in our home. This very minute, our tiny 12-year old, one-eyed tabby is staring at me, demanding to be let inside and fed. I must go.