Kitchen Friends Inspire Others: A Leadership Lesson in Love
Dear Readers, The following story was sent to me by Justin Pickering, President of Blaine González, a global firm that translates material into Spanish and Portuguese. Justin was instrumental in translating my web site www.trueleadercreed.com into Spanish.
There is a special guy in my office building. His name is Greg Dwyer. When I first met him, I did not think much. He was quiet, standing peacefully in the back of my office building's corporate cafeteria kitchen. Sometimes I would see him carrying pots and pans. Other times, he was slicing vegetables. I didn't think much of the diminutive 64-year-old wearing a maroon hat with the letters OKLAHOMA sprawled across the front.
What inspired this article is how Greg manages his life and how he brings joy to everyone who knows him. You see, Greg has a neurological and developmental disorder commonly referred to as Downs Syndrome. This makes him a very special asset to his cafeteria team at the Hobbs Brook, the company that owns and manages the building my company leases. I got to know him over the months since I've started working here and after a while, I knew that Greg's story would be nothing short of inspirational.
I interviewed Greg and his manager, Duane Sullivan- both 20+ year veterans of Hobbs Brook, a billion dollar company that manages commercial property in major metropolitan areas. Duane runs the cafeteria as both the chef and the manager and describes Greg's role as a pot-washer, a vegetable peeler and whatever else he is comfortable with.
Q: What is your favorite part about working together?
Duane: Teasing Greg to get him going. It keeps him active and part of the process that goes on in the kitchen. We like to have breakfast together, too.
Greg: Duane is my good friend and he takes care of me.
Q: Do you guys ever hang out outside of work? If so, what do you do?
Duane (answering for both guys): Yes. Once per year, we go to a Patriots game that our boss sends us to. We have brunch at the Four Points Hotel. We get free parking in the parking lot. I sometimes drive Greg home in bad weather as do other employees if needed.
Q: What is your favorite Boston sports team and why?
Duane (answering for both guys): The Patriots because they are winners and fun to go watch. We get to talk about them at work on Mondays or after any game and Greg loves to be included in the conversation.
In their 20 plus year relationship, they have bonded over the Patriots, over cooking together in the kitchen and over poking good fun at each other like only true Massachusetts buddies do. Duane makes sure that Greg finishes work on time every day so that he does not miss his bus. Duane sends Greg off with an apple and a banana so he has something healthy to eat and every time they say goodbye, Duane shakes Greg's hand, looks him right in the eye and in his distinctive Boston accent says, "I love you."
Another important character in this heartwarming story is Mr. D. (Tom Dusel) He is Duane's big boss. He is one of the executives who oversee several huge commercial .n example for the associates in his company. Mr. D and Greg have a ritual they share.
Every so often, Mr. D comes down from his office and manages to tear himself away from forging the company's vision to have breakfast with Greg. Their favorite sandwich to share is egg, cheese and sausage on an English muffin, which, if you are from New England, you know is as common as water and as precious as air. It is known that Mr. D treasures his time with his friend Greg. The last time I saw Greg was today. He was wearing a great looking striped shirt that resembles a seersucker pattern and a sweet pair of brown Dickies, preparing him for the worst messes that kitchen work has to offer. He and Duane and I had lunch together and talked, as we often do, about family, summer fun, our jobs and other parts of our lives.
Duane and I joked that Greg is the only man in the building who can stop a billion dollar company on a dime over an egg and cheese sandwich. We laughed until our sides were sore. Greg just looked at his with this serene gaze and I thought I caught what was a sly smile reveal itself stealthily on his face. You have to stop to ask yourself: How many companies out there would employ someone with Greg's condition steadily for 20+ years? How many managers would take care of the special needs of a 64-year-old man who is challenged by basic daily tasks that the rest of us take for granted - like tying shoes, getting dressed, toileting, etc.
Hobbs Brook and Duane have always found a place for Greg. Greg shows up dutifully at 7AM to see his friends Susan, John, Donny and all the rest. He may retire soon and Duane told me that when he does, there is going to be a gaping hole left behind in Greg's customary corner of the kitchen. Someone else will cut the vegetables and carry the pots and pans. The sound of Greg's voice will echo through the cafeteria no more. It will be a sad day when he steps down and moves on to the next phase of his life. But no matter where Greg ends up, it's guaranteed that no matter who replaces him, that person will not be able to stop Mr. D dead in his tracks to get him to cook a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich.
Postscript by Eileen: Justin and I had never met in person. We were finally to get together recently in Boston. On the day of our coffee date, Justin called in tears. Sweet Greg will not retire. That morning he had been struck by a car and killed. Justin was headed out to console Duane and Mr. D. I later found out that over 160 people came to Greg's funeral which would have tripled in size had not the service been so sudden. I am thinking they are serving egg and cheese sandwiches in heaven.
One more thought. It would make a world of difference to other folks like Greg if you cared to make a donation to the residential care program offered by Beaverbook STEP since 1973. To learn more about this non-profit, check it out here.
Remember, this is the holiday of giving.
L to R: Duane Sullivan, Chef and Manager of the cafeteria, Mike Lalli, Building & Facilities Manager ad Food Service Director, Greg and Thomas Dusel, President and CEO HBM