To All the “Sheila Spicer’s” In Our Lives

With the holiday season upon us, I put together a somewhat sentimental article about those who got us to where we are today.

In 2014, I attended the annual meeting for CLM (Council on Litigation Management), a nationally recognized organization whose focus is education of the legal community and its related fields. At that conference, they featured New York Times Best Seller, Brad Meltzer, as their main speaker. For those not acquainted with this amazingly talented writer here is where you can learn about him bradmeltzer.com.

Brad’s theme of the night in question was that much is expected from those who are given a lot. Brad talked about his journey as a noted writer and TV star.  As Brad rolled into his speech he stated that after some point in his professional life he decided to write two very interesting books, Heroes for my Son & Heroes for my Daughter – books which were obviously written out of a father’s love for his children.  Each book had 40 to 50 role models for his kids to learn from or otherwise respect and emulate. Brad provided concise, yet vivid, biographical stories of these influential and fascinating individuals like: Rosa Parks, Neil Armstrong, Roberto Clemente, Jonas Salk, Aung San Sun Kyi, Golda Meir, Sally Ride, Winston Churchill, Helen Keller, Terri Meltzer and Sheila Spicer, among dozens of others. Brad spoke in earnest that night about people who influenced him. Who is Sheila Spicer you ask?  Brad went onto elaborate. Sheila was Brad’s 9th grade English teacher, the first person to tell this precocious 9th grader that he could actually write, and write well. This once disbelieving and confused student actually had someone who believed that he was good at something – what a joy and what a gift! The trick is understanding at a young enough age that gratitude is a gift that needs to be given generously to those who have given selflessly.

Fast forward to after Brad wrote his first novel, when out of the blue, he knocked on his former teacher’s door to present her with a copy. Sheila Spicer opened the door and said Who are you? Brad proceeded to tell her who he was and the influence she has been to him. Brad went on to add that he wrote this first novel for her. Sheila broke down in tears and said that she was thinking about quitting because she didn’t believe that she was reaching her students. After a lot of hugs and tears, Sheila expressed her profound appreciation and later went on to teach for many more years.

In the real world, we all owe our parents, friends, family members or others a world of gratitude for helping us get through this thing called life. My ask today is that you reach out to say a long overdue thank you to someone who has profoundly influenced you. This simple gesture would provide an example to our kids as to how we need to remain humble and grounded, not to mention the impact this act of gratitude will have on the recipient. When the curtain drops on our careers, we will be defined by the friends and family we have, not the titles and awards that we once coveted.

In our industry, we ALL have been influenced by some force or person or personality. The three most influential in my political life were giants who have long since passed away. I have Democratic Congressman Joseph Minish (pictured), his Chief of Staff Joe Puzo and former Assemblyman John V. Kelly to thank. I was a congressional intern in 1984, assigned by my college professor, to this special congressman and in the late 80’s I was a legislative aide to the one of a kind Assemblyman and banker, John V. Kelly. I learned a lot of life lessons from these role models, and can only wish they were alive today so I could knock on their door and say thank you

Congressman Minish served this country first in the military and later in Congress for 22 years. He was a tough talking Union representative and a special person. Congressman Joe said service to the constituents is of paramount importance. Joe Puzo talked about taking care of every little constituent concern, no problem is too small and no effort is wasted in service to those we represent. Joe Puzo also taught us how to drill down on opposition research and how to pull down an opponent’s lawn sign without ever leaving the campaign van. I only imagine how different my life would be if we won that race in 1984 and had the 11th Congressional District not been so drastically redrawn. I had my sight set on moving to Washington D.C and working for this legend.

Former Mayor of Nutley and Assemblyman Kelly first served our country in the army, then started a neighborhood bank and was friends with everyone. He got jobs and loans for folks who were usually down on their luck. He was lovingly compared to George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life. John taught us not to rely upon politics for a career and to not take sh*t from anyone. He also said to find your voice and cause and be passionate about it. I would drive John and other Assembly members down to Trenton, on Route 1 (before 7A even existed) and watch how Mr-Tell-It-Like-It-Is, who was fearless and out spoken, would tell it like it is. His floor speeches were priceless and he would ‘politely’ interrupt others who droned on too long.

I say THANK YOU to these mentors.

To my mom and dad, my ridiculously supportive wife, Beth, my close family (that now include my two college age children) and close friends; I have many to thank for allowing me to take my journey of public service as a Councilman, Mayor, Assemblyman, State Senator and County Chair. You have helped me knock on doors, stuff envelopes, make phone calls, raise money, you have been used as props in campaign photo shoots, attended countless events, listened to boring speeches (while acting interested) and been there for me in the best of times and in some dark moments.

I say THANK YOU to you all.

In the wild world of politics, it isn’t always easy for big game elected officials to notably and loudly proclaim gratitude for help received early on in their fledgling careers. Many of us would like to believe that we did this all by ourselves – NOT. Perhaps it’s the altitude we reach during the climb in politics that causes many to develop amnesia. If you allow yourself, you can recall that special person who was critical to your ascension. Whether it be the person who asked you to be on county committee, the senior leader who sponsored your first run for office or a major donor or supportive family member, we all can remember that individual who helped make our careers. To the class of current and future politicians, take heed to the following: Be humble and grateful for all the support that you have received and be the role model for the next generation – that you at one time sought for yourself.

Make that call!

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