Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Serious Laughter for Growth

Whenever we rode together in to work we never took the freeway. Instead we took routes that he had charted that minimized traffic lights and maximized the enjoyment of just, "takin' a ride". That was Vernon Thompson's way.

During nearly two years of our active friendship, this marvelous manager and Great Grampa and I carpooled to work from Holladay, Utah to Draper. Every morning and every night we had about 20 minutes together to anticipate or recap the day. It was an Oxford Master's Class in practical business practice. And he made it fun!

His method was "Serious Laughter for Growth. " And how I did laugh--how we did laugh together! Turns out laughter was one of his major problem solving mechanisms. When Bill Cosby turns over the reins of most popular black comic in America he should seek out my friend Vernon.

His down to earth practical wisdom made Vernon part philosopher, part comic, part terrific human being. He retired the first time from a large manufacturing firm as Director of Inventory and Planning and went home to relax. His wife operated a beauty shop in the basement for many of their wide circle of friends. Vernon enjoyed visiting with them in the waiting area upstairs. Her clients enjoyed visiting with Vernon so much, that it slowed the flow.

With a chuckle, Vernon was TOLD: "Get out from under my feet--go get another job, if for no other reason than to keep busy! He applied for the job as the manager of our phone room. His experience and good humor moved him quickly up the organizational chart. For the last few years of it's existence, Vernon was the President's right hand man as General Manager.

He doted on his three gramchillins. Once he invited me along to shoot a few pictures of them taking a swimming lesson. He went to their ball games, told them stories, baby sat them and often told them NO! Vitamin "N" is an essential ingredient in any great grampa's arsenal. Vernon never did it with anger--he always followed up with an increase in love.

One morning he told me the story of his junior assistant planner. Vernon kept the whiteboard in his office in motion with plans and relationships drawn out with lines, notes, squiggles. One of the many things I did for him was to take a digital picture of his white boards. He kept these in a special file and would haul them out for review on a regular basis.

The sketching and planning didn't stop when he got home. He kept a set of fresh dry erase markers on top of a wide, white enamel refrigerator. The door to the freezer was just big enough for him to sketch out a problem at work and erase it and do it all again. One night he was babysitting his youngest (and I suspect favorite) gramchild. He was thinkin' and drawin' and changin' when he noticed the youngster doing the same kind of thing on the lower door of the fridge with a PERMANENT marker. He chuckled and separated the little boy from his artistic instrument of damage and cleaned off the bottom, and eventually the top of the fridge.

When he suddenly lost his beloved Susan, our management team turned up at his Baptist church to say goodbye to her and support our beloved G.M. . Vernon sold the family home soon afterward and moved in with his Oldest Son further West. That ended our commute together. I retired and have only seen him a time or two since. His wisdom and funny sayings creep into my head at the most welcome times. I do miss Vernon and our fun together on the road.

When we did travel as ride buddies, I sensed there was a book or two in the man. Vernon is a bright guy, but for reasons known only to him, he never answered his email. He prefers resolving "situations" face to face or by phone. I love to write, so I took notes with one hand and steered the car with the other. Between bursts of laughter, I cobbled together another chapter outline almost every morning. I went to the computer when we arrived at work and from 7:00 to 8:00 I ghost wrote two volumes of roman a clef truths about our business using his clever nicknames for employees known only as "The Wall Walkers, Chatty Cathy and Earth Mother to name a few.

Volume One is entitled, "Stop Business Interrupters" Volume Two is called, "Encourage Problem Solvers" I ghost wrote them and gave him a couple of finished chapters almost every week for more than a year. Will they ever see the light of day? That depends on Vernon. If I could write the Vernon "Script" for the next few years, it would be to send him on a speaking tour telling stories about the Tug Boat Captain and our unique Puzzle Palace.

The serious laughter that got us through the day to day will help his audiences laugh at their own similar situations and discover clues to do something beyond the laughter to fix what's wrong, thanks to Vernon Thompson, one of a handful of my heros and a Great Grampa Hall of Famer!

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