It was at a contractor conference in Long Beach, Calif., where Rick Picard came up to me after my speech. Looking a bit teary-eyed, Picard conveyed his emotional reaction to a PowerPoint image that I displayed.

As a frequent conference speaker, I have learned to make photographs do the heavy lifting. Some images share eloquence better than me.

 

In this particular day, the phrase, “a picture tells a thousand words” fit, and the photograph of my father’s truck hit its mark.

Parked at the corner of East 185th Street and Southern Boulevard in the Bronx, N.Y., the truck image speaks volumes about life, work and mentoring.

And that truck image reminded Rick Picard about his own mentoring experience as a 14-year-old teenager.

Back then, Picard worked a part-time job at Lakeview Beverages, a soda company that bottled, sold and home-delivered carbonated soft drinks in Webster, Mass. He was a high school student with no particular career aspirations.

A plumbing and heating contractor maintained Lakeview Beverages’ boiler and refrigerating units and everyone called him “Refrigerator Joe.” 

Joe Pawalczyk was an elderly gentleman with a rough tone-of-voice and a gentle demeanor. Picard encountered Pawalczyk on Wednesdays and Fridays at Lakeview Beverages, when the soda bottles were sanitized, refilled and refrigerated.

Curious about the mechanical work, Picard looked over Pawalczyk’s shoulder and asked numerous questions about the equipment and the tools. The barrage of questions from this youngster tried the elder plumber’s patience.

Picard’s relentless inquiries and interruptions to Pawalczyk’s work came to a climax one day. Realizing that the impetuous teenager wasn’t going to stop, Pawalczyk decided to take action.

“If you’re going to keep bothering me, you might as well do some work,” said Pawalczyk. “Hey kid, go to my truck and get the white bucket with the tools.”

Excited about the prospect of being the elder’s helper, Picard threw himself into the schlepping. 

And thus began Pawalczyk’s role as a mentor and Picard’s mechanical apprenticeship.  Subsequent vocational high school enrollment and continued work with Pawalczyk burgeoned into Picard’s successful plumbing and heating career at Rodenhiser Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning.

Upon reflection, Picard remembers, “Everyone in Webster, Massachusetts loved Joe because he was always available to his customers. They would call him day and night,” said Picard. “The mentoring lesson that I learned was that Joe enjoyed helping people.  It made him happy.”

Does Picard’s experience sound familiar?