Fifty Years ago, a concept called TEC was born23 Comments June 25, 2007 / Posted in Mindful Business, Mindful Leadership
Bob Nourse around the age of 50 lost the family business. He had his brother managed it until Mongomery Ward found another vendor. It was over quickly.
Jim Handy, later hired by Bob, recalled that “Bob found himself on a profound search personally (What am I really about?) and professionally (What do I do?)”
This is the 50 anniversary of the founding of TEC (The Executive Committee.
TEC remains the name used by several of the partners of Vistage which is the name in the US except for Michigan and Wisconsin (where Bob Nourse started TEC in 1957). Vistage/TEC is the world’s largest CEO membership organization with over 14,000 members in 16 countries.
Lee Thayer speaks of the Vision having the man. This was most true in the case of Bob Nourse
The following is excerpted from Robert Nourse’s typed autobiography and family history: History of the Nourse Family, Volume II. It speaks to the spirit behind an idea of one man that has continued to grow over the past 50 years.
My Middle Years
In 1935, still in the grip of the depression, I was making a modest living selling paper products: towels, toilet paper, picnic supplies to general stores in small towns. My income was about $300 a month out of which I had to pay my expenses. One day my brother, Pinkie (nickname for brother Claire, asked me: How would you like to come to work for Midland? We need a salesman to travel the Midwest and later on who can tell where it might lead? When Dad retires in a few years we will run the company we will run the company together. You’ll receive more to start than you’re earning now.”
Flattered that he felt I could make a contribution, I accepted. He offered me $300 a month, expenses paid, which I accepted. My future had never been brighter. I had proved myself, made a good marriage (married May 5, 1934 to Grace), now I had a good job.
Father did retire and Pinkie and I ran the family business for the next twenty years. My brother had been with Midland five years before me and he was eight years my senior, so naturally he was the president, I the vice-president.
I had made another mistake. It is difficult enough working with a brother but working for one. Working for one’s older brother can be hell. He was critical of my work, seldom complimented me. It is hard to place the blame. At the time I thought it was all his fault. In the beginning he gave me few instructions and no praise or encouragement.
His dissatisfaction with my work was palpable but seldom expressed and then only by innuendo. Yet it wasn’t all his fault. I had learned since that I am an entrepreneur at heart and could not be happy working for any person. In my second career I was my own boss and was divinely happy.
I never knew where I stood with him. I would come home every night and bitch to Grace about every little affront. Not only did it put a strain on our marriage, but also I’m sure it was a contributing factor to my anxiety neurosis. It was when I was on a sales trip for Midland that the Shattering “incident” in the hotel in Illinois occurred, the incident that triggered my neurosis
Mother’s pampering when I was a child had made me more sensitive and thin-skinned than most. That, coupled with my feeling of worthlessness at work, made me a prime candidate for an anxiety neurosis. In 1942 it hit me. The first symptom was sleeplessness followed by hypochondria. Dr. Tom Tolan would usher me out of his office with: “Not a thing wrong with your throat, Bob. Take an aspirin four times a day and gargle with hot salt water if it still hurts.” A few weeks later I was back with the same symptoms.
The neurosis blossomed in Detroit. I was having dinner with a customer when the fear of spending the night alone in a hotel room engulfed me. I told him I was ill and asked him to spend the night with me. It embarrasses me now just to tell about it.
I called the housed physician the next morning. He sat on the edge of my bed, took my pulse, asked me what my symptoms were and where I came from, then said: “In the few minutes I’ve been here your pulse has dropped from 100 to 65. Why don’t you head for home? You are fortunate to have a physician in Milwaukee who is a specialist in these disorders. You might want to look him up. His name is Dr. Roland Jefferson.”
I did look him up in the phone book, found him listed under PSYCHIATRIST. It threw me. Was I going Crazy? A month later when I repeated the Detroit experience in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, Grace urged me to see Dr. Jefferson. I made an appointment, the first of hundreds over the next few years.
With his help, and that of Dr. Saul APollock later on, I learned how to cope. I became a whole person, and thanks to them, managed to stay on the job through it all without missing a day. I was fortunate neurosis hadn’t struck me ten years earlier because professional help wasn’t available. A March 20, 1983 article in The New York Times stated: “As late as 1930 Freud’s books were being derided in The New York Times Book Review.
All suffering has its compensation. I came out of my Freudian analysis with a deeper understanding of myself and with a knowledge and interest in psychology. Ten years later this was instrumental in helping me create a new career.
I am grateful to Pinkie for his understanding. He didn’t say a word when I left work early to keep appointments and he gave me the position of production manager so I didn’t have to travel.
I am grateful to Pinkie for putt up with me for the following fifteen years. I was unable to travel so the load fell on him to do all the selling. And, he did an excellent job of it. Under his direction the annual sales of the company increased from $300,000 to over $5,000,000.
Together we shifted our products as times changed. It’s hard to believe today that as recently as the thirties we made harness hardware. With the advent of the tractor that business almost disappeared, so we shifted to wheeled garden cultivators for “victory” gardeners during the Second World War. Later wed put small gasoline engines on them, and seats, so the operator could ride.
By 1954 we were producing every year several million dollars worth of garden tractors and riding, power lawn mowers. I made $40,000 that year, far beyond my fondest dreams. Then catastrophe struck.
We had made the serious mistake of selling most of our production to one customer, Montgomery Ward, and they “pulled the rug” on us. They switched their business to one of our competitors. By 1957 it became evident we wouldn’t survive.
By a stroke of luck Pinkie was able to sell what was left of Midland Company for enough money not only to pay its debts, but also to leave some over for the stockholders. A few days before signing the papers, Pinkie died of a heart attack. I am grateful he lived long enough to close the deal. The proceeds from the sale of his stock have supported his widow for the past thirty years. The money I received for my stock tided me over until I found a news source of income.
During the Midland years, I took numerous courses on business at the Management Institute of the University of Wisconsin. I also read extensively in the fields of psychology and group dynamics, books by Carl Jung and Kurt Lewin. I became involved in the Human Potential movement, seminars that helped people to utilize a larger percentage of their potential; and I became President of Cambridge House, a growth center where the seminars were held.
As Midland slipped away, I began exploring ways in which I might turn these avocations of mine into a vocation. I was bound and determined to retain my independence, not to go to work for a company on a salary. In early 1957 I had an idea. Would eight or ten company presidents be interested in forming a group to help solve each other’s problems? Many presidents paid big fees to management consultants. At Midland, I had, myself. Wasn’t a president who had solved many problems better qualified to help peers than a consultant who had not had first-hand experience?
If the answer were “Yes,” someone would have to sell the idea to a group of presidents and then conduct their meetings. With my experience in business and my newfound knowledge in group dynamics, I felt qualified for that job.
But I foresaw obstacles. Could I charge enough for my services to support my family? Would the presidents feel they could “do it themselves” without my services?
To test my idea, I presented it to several friends: my rector, a lawyer, a management consultant, an industrial psychologist, and a friend who was a company president. All of them encouraged me, gave me helpful suggestions. One said: “How about calling it The Executive Committee?” I replied: “Perfect.”
At that time an executive committee comprised of the president and two or three key members of the board ran many companies. So, The Executive Committee it became and, later, TEC for short.
I started calling on prospects in the summer of 1957 and by fall had five presidents who were willing to try one meeting. On the date set, October 1957, four showed up. At the end of the day all said they would attend a second meeting for which I could bill them. In the interim, I added three members. TEC had been launched.
At the second meeting I outlined my concept for TEC. Membership was to be limited to eight non-competing company presidents or chief executive officers. Full day meetings were to be help once a month, the morning to be spent listening to a “resource specialist” discuss a subject of group interest and, in the afternoon, each member was to present a problem for discussion. A chairman would plan and conduct the meetings and hold a monthly interview with each member to help him articulate his problem.
Two years later I started a second committee, calling it TEC II. When I added a third, it was all I could handle, so I started adding partners. When I retired in 1980, there were thousands of TEC members from coast to coast and in Australia and Japan. I am grateful to have lived in a free-enterprise society where an individual’s ideas could be realized without having to contend with government restrictions.
Illustration of a problem that was presented at a TEC meeting:
Cast: Eight company presidents and a Chairman, Bob
Place: University Club of Milwaukee
Bob speaks: “Jim, you’re host for this meeting so you have the privilege of presenting your problem first.”
Jim: “Well-I’ll make it as brief as I can. Both of my sons are working for me and I can’t decide which one should be my successor as president. It’s customary for the oldest to succeed, but Tom, the younger, has been with the company longer.”
Bill: “Is he doing a good job? (Bill is another president)
Jim: “Excellent, considering he never had a college education. He’s Vice President of Manufacturing and all his foremen respect him h highly. But his older brother, Jack, is also doing a good job as Vice President of Sales. I favor Tom. He’s proven himself and if Jack goes in over him it would amount to a demotion.”
Joe: Why didn’t Jack come into the business ‘til later?” (Joe, another president)
Jim: He enlisted during the Vietnam War. Served in the Air Force. Flew supply planes over the hump in Burma.”
Joe: “I can understand why you have a problem. You hate to penalize Jack when he was delayed because he was serving his country.”
There was a pause in the conversation.
Phil: (Another president breaks the silence) Have you considered letting your sons decide for themselves?”
Remarks around the table. “Best idea yet.” “Sounds sensible.” “Why not?” “It’s worth a try.”
Joe: “Would you be willing to abide by their decision?”
Jim: “I think so. After all, it’s not irreversible.” (Turning to Bob.) Would you be willing to get them together?”
Bob: “Sure, if they’re willing.”
A week later Bob, Tom, and Jack are sitting together.
Bob opens: “Your father asked me to get you two together. He has a problem. He feels both of you are qualified to be president, but can’t decide which.”
Jack: “I can understand why. I’m the older, but Tom has been here longer.”
Tom: “I’ve wondered how he would decide. Either way it’s okay with me. Jack and IU get along fine.”
Jack: “No problem. I like being Vice President of Sales. There’s plenty of challenge for me. Tom has earned the job and I think he should have it.”
A year later, TEC IV is holding its regular monthly meeting. Bob opens the meeting.
Bob: “Jim, it’s been a year now since you made Tom president. Give me a report. How’s it going?”
Jim: “Excellent. Tom has the title, but the two work together like a team. Jack has built up a strong sales organization. He likes to travel and spends most of his time on the road. Sales have increased twenty-five percent over last year and they’re forecasting a thirty-five percent increase for this year.”
Bob: “And how are you doing, Jim?”
Jim: “I’m having a ball. Playing golf two or threes time a week. My wife and I spent a month in southern Arizona last winter and plan to make it two this winter.”
Bob: “Jim, that’s just great. Anytime you want a leave of absence from TEC IV, just ask. But don’t drop your membership. We need you to teach us how to retire.”
1989. Tom has bought out two of his competitors and in now third largest in his field in the United States. He joined TEC VI where he brings up his problems each month. After a brief illness, his father passed away several years ago at 81.
So, that’s the way of TEC. It isn’t often that a man can start a new career after he’s 50 and have it succeed. I feel very fortunate.
One of the interests, which I listed earlier, is psychology.
I have Grace to thank for introducing med to it. Back when I was b ringing home all my problems with Pinkie and dumping them in her lap, she was on the point of leaving me. One of her friends suggested that she take her problems to Apple Farm, a retreat center in Three Rivers, Michigan.
The three ex-nuns who founded it had left the sisterhood because they were captivated by the teachings of Carl Jung, the Swiss analytical psychologist. They started Apple Farm to spread his teachings. After several sessions with Grace, they convinced hear to try to make her marriage work. She did for which I’m grateful.
Over the next few years, all three of our children, and myself, visited Apple Farm. It was a great learning experience. The entire family has benefited from Jung’s psychological teachings. Terms Jung introduced to the language give a hint to the depth of his psychology, terms such as introvert and extrovert, persona, projection, individuation. Each term has meaning for me. By taking tests, I learned I was an introvert, not an extrovert.
I learned I was wearing a persona, a mask to hide my true self, a mask of self-confidence, which I didn’t feel. The mask seemed to weigh a ton. Those part of myself I didn’t like, I projected onto others. Individuation was the most difficult. It was the process of becoming a person, an individual who took charge of his own life rather than leaning on others. Jung opened up a whole new world to me, one that has enriched my life, particularly in my relationship with others.
…Grace and I both have interests in theatre and classical music…
Closely allied with culture, which feeds the soul, is food and wine, which feeds the body. I love good food and will drive miles for a gourmet dinner. And I love wine even more, to the point where I have made a hobby of it.
One year, at Grace’s request, we visited the homes and studios of the great artists along the Cote d’Azure in Provence. I said, “The next trip is for me, to see the vineyards of France.”
Landing at de Gaulle Airport, we headed straight for the Chablis country without even going into Paris. Next came the champagne area followed by Dijon and the upper Soane Valley. Heading back south, we visited the vineyards of a dozen of the finest Burgundies. Cotes de Rhone was next, south of Lyon, which lead us into Provence.
The wines of Languedoc are very poor, so we pressed on to the Dordogne Valley with Rocamador, the city on top of a cliff, at its center. Going down the Dordogne River to its mouth, we spent a week visiting the finest wine area in the world – Bordeaux. Heading north we wound up our tour sampling the sweet wines of the Loire Valley.
Every time I drink a French wine today, I read the label to find out where it came from, then close my eyes and picture it.
The TEC Story
Four men were willing to risk one meeting of The Executive Committee. In October 1957 we met in the office of Carl Rowe, the president of Milwaukee Valve Co. To acquaint the other members with his facilities so they could be more helpful in the discussion to follow, Carl conducted a tour of his plant. Starting with brass ingots he took us through the foundry where they were melted and poured into molds to make valve casings. Then came the machine shop where the rough castings were finished and the valves inserted. Finally, the packing and shipping departments. Back in his office later we told him what we had observed – a dangerous operation here, malingering there, inefficiencies, but also those things we thought he was doing well.
In mid-afternoon I worked up the nerve to put TEC to the test. I said, “Our principle purpose in being here is to help solve each other’s problems. Now who would like to go first?”
John Kipmeier shifted in his chair. Ralph Findley blew his nose. All four stared at the floor. It was the moment of truth. No company president likes to admit he has problems. He thinks it is an admission of weakness, of personal failure. Finally Carl, unable to tolerate the silence any longer, cleared his throat.
“I don’t think this is really a problem and I doubt if you can be any help to me, but” (deep breath) “I’ve had to fire three sales managers in the past year.” The floodgates opened. He proceeded to talk and talk and talk, giving all the rationalizations for firing each one. I broke in on him. “Carl, I think we have enough information. Now let’s see if anyone has any suggestions for you.”
Silence again, but not as long this time. John Kipmeier, who had been the sales manager of his company before becoming president, said, “Carl, have you ever been a sales manager?”
“No, I never have. I’m an engineer.”
All three tried to speak at once. It was obvious that Carl was the problem. They were too discreet to say this directly. They suggested he travel with his sales manager, that only by learning his problems could Carl become a good supervisor over him.
One by one the others brought up problems and in almost every case someone had had a similar experience and shared how he had resolved it. Five o’clock passed unnoticed. At five-thirty I broke in.
“Maybe we’d better call it a day, but before we go, how did you like it?
I held my breath. The future of TEC, my future, hung in the balance.
“I thought it was pretty good,” Bob Wagner said at last. “I’m will to risk one more meeting. How about coming to my place next month?”
“I’ll be there.”
“Send me a notice, Bob.”
Grace greeted me at the door with anxiety in her eyes. I threw my arms around her, swung her around, put her down, kissed her, and said: “It worked. They decided to try another meeting.” And on and on for an hour without stopping.
“You haven’t touched your martini,” Grace interrupted. “Bring it out to the kitchen and tell me more while I put on the dinner.” With such a supportive, understanding and sympathetic wife, how could I fail?
A year passed. Four more men had joined which filled the membership. Al had suggestions for improving the meetings. After the eight plant tours had been completed I brought in a resource specialist for the morning session, an expert on a subject the members wanted to know more about. I told him we didn’t want a speech but an informal roundtable discussion. As chairman of the meetings, I saw to it that every member got equal time. I developed the skill of diplomatically quieting down the loquacious ones, and drawing out the quiet ones. Most meetings ran overtime.
Keeping a group of eight executives stimulated and involved for a full day is not easy. It took days of preparation. I learned I could improve the meetings by having an interview with each member beforehand. This accomplished several things—an opportunity to elicit their problems for the coming meeting and to review the suggestions they received at the previous one. (The called me The Needler.)
I kept in touch with the four advisors who had been so helpful to me in developing TEC. One day one asked me, “Bob, are you earning enough from one committee to live comfortably?
“Not really. It’s marginal. My family is still on a very tight budget.”
“How about your time?”
“I’m giving each member more time than necessary, more than he pays for.”
“Isn’t it about time you started a second committee?”
TEC II was launched three months later. (The idea for Roman numerals came from a prestigious line of cars—the Marc series)
Three years later another of my advisors, the lawyer, suggested a committee be formed out in the state. He said, “My clients in the smaller towns appreciate my services more than my Milwaukee clients.” TEC III was launched in early 1963. Now, with twenty-four members, I was stretched to the limit. A member suggested I write a book on TEC and call it My Twenty-Four Bosses. That may follow this family history.
TEC III had a special place in my heart. It had to be my old love affair with the small towns of Wisconsin, Kindled in the early 30’s when, trying to earn enough money to get married, I was selling toilet paper to country merchants. But the years had wrought significant changes. Back in 1933 when I pulled into the town of Fort Atkinson I took my sample case into a corner grocery and spread the rolls of Northern Tissues, paper napkins and flypaper on the counter for Mr. Marachewski’s inspection. Now in 1963, the only thing the same was the Ford, a newer model of course. Instead of a sample case I carried my briefcase into the office of Alan Jones, president of Jones Daily Farm whose little dairy sausages were sold in the finest stores from coast to coast.
Instead of merchandise we discussed ideas. Rather than selling a case of toilet paper to a very fine fellow who nevertheless has little education, I was using the intelligence and diplomacy acquired from my parents and the university to involve a successful business executive in a discussion of his problems. My only tools were a pen and pocket secretary. I was living by my wits and enjoying every minute of it.
Yet, driving home to Milwaukee in the late afternoon the differences of thirty years vanished. Just as I had in 1933, I shunned the turnpike and followed the same old county trucks that curved with the streams and curled with the streams and curled around the lakes of the Kettle Moraine, my beloved Wisconsin at its best.
By the mid-sixties the economy has been expanding for twenty-five years, marred only by minor recessions in 1957 and 1961. No one realized we were facing fifteen years of race riots, Vietnam protesters, an oil embargo, inflation, malfeasance in the Oval Office, Japanese competition and the deepest recession since the 30’s.
Kept informed by some of the best minds in the country, TEC members were prepared to meet all these crises. I couldn’t attract the guru of General Motors, Peter Ducker, to Milwaukee so we took the mountain to Mohammed, by holding a meeting in his hometown—New York City.
Year by year the members grew closer together, learned they could share confidential problems without fear of being exposed. Among the companies that were family-owned the matter of succession to the presidency was particularly important…
One day Tom was complaining about his business. Erv, in his slow, deep voice said, “Tom, do you realize you have been complaining about the foundry business for the past three meetings? If it’s so lousy, why in hell don’t you get out of it?”
Tom, looking startled, turned to the others and said, “Is Erv right? Have I?”
Ken responded for the group. “I guess you have to face it. He’s right.”
A year later Tom started a new business and when it was running smoothly he sold the foundry. Had I been a member of TEC would I have sold Midland before Montgomery Ward dropped the axe?
In 1967 I began to realize I wasn’t going to live forever. (That was seventeen years ago? I don’t know what I was worried about.) I had better find a successor if TEC was to survive me. The first man I approached turned me down, and the second\ed, and the third. A self-appraisal revealed the reason. They were all high-caliber men and I was telling them, “It should be easy for you. I have worked all the bugs out of it. All you have to do is follow in my footsteps.” The men I had approached wouldn’t follow in any man’s footsteps. I made a complete about face. To the next man I said, “ I have only laid the foundation. You build on it.” He accepted.
His name was Dr. Frank Sterner, a young Ph.D. from Purdue. A year later a Purdue classmate of Frank’s appeared in our offices. He said, “I heard about your new work from Frank and it interests me. So much so I’ve come all the way from California to learn more.” Thus TEC spread to the west coast.
In 1973, Frank Sterner accepted a position as Associate Dean of the Purdue School of Business. I couldn’t blame him although it set me back on my heels. Fortunately I found Jim Handy from the University of Minnesota to replace him. A year later Dr. Harry Dennis, another Ph.D. from Purdue, joined us. A member told me, “Bob, one of your greatest abilities is selecting and developing partners.” I think luck played a big part. I any event, Jim, Harry and I, all with quite different skills, have made a good team for the past ten years.
I have made it sound as though TEC was easy. Not so. Procrastination was my worst enemy. The countdown for the next meeting started the day after the previous one. Pressure built day by day. It became almost unbearable if a meeting was only two weeks away and I did not have a resource specialist. I would say to myself, “Come on Nourse, get on the ball. Are you doing this to yourself because it feels so good when you stop? Deep down are you a masochist?”
Another tension-builder was when a member told me he was dropping out. My first reaction was that it was my fault. Why hadn’t I stayed closer to him so I had some warning that he was dissatisfied? I learned that dropouts often came during periods of euphoria when life was beautiful and my creative juices stopped flowing. A dropout jolted me out of my lethargy and back into a more productive mode. A third and final pressure was self-imposed. I set a standard of making each meeting better than the previous one. I didn’t always succeed, but my average was over fifty percent.
People often ask me, “How did you start TEC? It’s so creative.” None of the separate parts of TEC are original with me. The rotating of hosts came from the original Rotary Club. The problem-solving session came from case studies at Harvard Business School, except TEC cases were “live.” Small groups go back to the Apostles. Large groups had been breaking up into “buzz” groups for a number of years. The only thing creative about TEC was putting all those old parts together in a new package.
Late one evening in January 1976, I was driving the long, lonely stretch of road in the North woods from Merrill, Wisconsin to Menomonie, Michigan. AI had a breakfast appointment the next morning. Several inches of snow lay on the ground before I left, and it was getting deeper by the hour. The temperature was near zero. Knuckles white, eyes straining to avoid going off the road, I started talking to myself aloud.
“For Christ’s sake, Nourse, what in hell are you doing to yourself? Here you are, seventy years old, battling a blizzard in the deep woods of Northern Wisconsin at ten o’clock at night to keep an appointment. Can’t you ever give up and admit you’ve had enough?”
Three months later I turned TEC III over to Jim handy; a year later TEC II followed. I held onto my original TEC I for two more years but finally retired on my seventy-fifth birthday.
In twenty-three years our Midwest TEC had grown from one committee with eight members and one Chairman to twenty-three committees with 195 members and ten chairmen. Jim and Harry get the credit for the dynamic growth. They built the structure on my foundation. In my opinion they, with the eight chairmen they selected, are the finest professional organization in the State of Wisconsin. The group includes former successful business executives, consultants, psychologists, and college professors, even a retired admiral.
The West Coast TEC has outgrown its parent. Last month it went international. The Los Angeles Times carried the story that a group of Japanese businessmen were in town to sign a franchise for TEC Japan. My crowning glory.
When a man asks me what I do, I say: “I get company presidents together and help them solve each other’s problems.”
“Does that make you a management consultant or something?”
“No,” I respond, “I’m not smart enough for that. I’m a management educator.”
To myself, I add, “One of the best.” Am I bragging? I suppose so.
…Is it presumptuous of me to think that what I’ve learned is worth sharing with my grandchildren? I’ll leave it up to them to decide whether it’s helpful. For one thing I listen to advice regardless of the source. To my surprise sometimes the best advice comes from the damnedest mouths—from someone for whom I have little or no respect, often someone who has made a mess of his life. So, as a start, listen to advice. Seek it if necessary.
Do I believe in God, and God who, when I close my eyes, I see painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo? A God with his relaxed hand held over the head of man as though God was bestowing his blessing. Someone asked C.G. Jung if he believed. Jung, the lusty guy who bent most of the Ten Commandments, replied: I don’t believe. I know.” I can’t say it any better. How else can we have any hope for the future? And without hope all is lost. During my years of travail at Midland hope was the one thread I clung to and it was strong enough to pull me through.
High on my list is: travel light. I try to avoid weighing myself down with material goods, a big house, big cars, and a second home in San Miguel de Allende, a boat on Lake Michigan. Ai let someone else own and maintain. I rent and use. That leaves me time to enjoy things. The one exception is Lost Mile Farm, but that is no chore. Besides, nature prunes itself.
Over 2000 years ago Aristotle said, “Know thyself.” There are many ways I have gotten to know myself. One is through my dreams, which I record and have interpreted for me. One’s unconscious knows best, Jung teaches. I trust it. Other ways are studying psychology, attending seminars and retreats, prayer, just asking myself, “How do I feel about this or that, and why? How can I get the most out of myself if I don’t know whom I am and what I have? How I stay well if I don’t listen to what my body is saying to me.
I try to stay healthy without making a cult of it. Years ago I was overweight. I changed my eating habits, eliminated high calorie foods, and haven’t had to think about weight since. Forty years ago, when it took me ten minutes to clear my lungs every morning, I gave up smoking. I seldom have a cocktail but enjoy wine with my meals. I have a physical once a year and take my doctor’s advice when he tells me to be moderate in all things. I don’t hesitate to take medication he prescribes to relieve stress or sleeplessness. Mother lived to ninety-six and she took a “powder” every night of her adult life. I do five minutes of exercise for my back most mornings; and I walk a lot.
Life has demonstrated—to me—that good relationships with people are what make life worth living so I nurture them carefully. Family ties area the most important so I write and phone my children regularly and encourage them to phone home, and each other. I try to reach out to friends even when they don’t seem to reach out to me. It takes an exercise of the will. Grace, of course, is in a category all by herself. She comes first in everything.
I have always respected money, too much, but have tried to keep it in its place. This has taken years of constant vigilance. Only in the past few years have I been able to relax and truly enjoy it. The Midland debacle in 1955 wiped out much of what I had accumulated. However the past thirty years have been good to me so I have recouped my losses and more.
Financially, I have tried to live by one very simple rule—to spend less than I make. Most people struggle all their lives to make more than they spend. It’s a losing battle, and I mean BATTLE, not only with oneself but also with spouse and children. Like a prudent housewife, I kept all sorts of little “jars” for tucking away a few dollars, savings plans and war bonds, pension plans and bonuses. My children make enough to live comfortably so they don’t need to inherit, but I’m sure they will. As one retiree said, “I spend whatever my children can afford.”
Several other tenets by which I have tried to live are:
• To use my power and control wisely. It hasn’t been easy. I have more of both than I realized.
• To use tradition rather than let it use me.
• To be eclectic—to maintain many and varied interests.
• To live by my wits—that is, to use my brain rather than depending on accumulated wealth.
• Finally, to keep growing, to live life right, to the hilt, right to the end—to throw myself away.
Last weekend I climbed up on El Paracutin the American continent’s newest volcano. Tarascan Indians guided Grace and me on horseback from the end of the road to the base. Instead of a pile of fine black ashes I found an immense cone of congealed volcanic rocks each weighing tons, piled helter-skelter. Rather than tapering off, it came to a steep, abrupt edge like a Mayan Pyramid. What was left of a church steeple protruded from the mass. I climbed the hundred yards up to it, mostly on my hands and knees. Bloodied and exhausted, I drank in the fascinating sight.
I tried to picture what it was like forty years ago when it was a cauldron of molten rock gradually burying an entire town, all except the church steeple. What force had saved the steeple from that fiery, living hell, now a cold, dead hell?
I turned around and looked back down the route I had taken. It took two guides, one firmly holding each hand to lead me, carefully picking my steps among the boulders, back to the flat valley floor and the torture of the saddle for the return trip. Every muscle in my body ached, but what better way is there of knowing one’s alive?