Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald: Be like Gib

Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald: Be like Gib

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Jan 05, 2009
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Be like Gib

His name was Charles Gibson Gardner, but he was called “Gib” his whole life. He was a teacher, a coach, an athlete, a husband, and a father. He was my greatest mentor. I met him when he hired me to teach swimming lessons and help coach the summer swim team at the country club swimming pool he managed. He led by example. He taught me so much about human nature, about dealing with unhappy clients and difficult people, about the value of a strong work ethic, and about how to be a good man.

When I started with him, I was 18 years old. The first thing he told me was that every child on the swim team (there were more than 200) was going to win a ribbon that summer. Once, in order to do this, I put a physically and mentally disabled child on to a really strong relay and removed one of the fastest swimmers, leaving the three other fastest swimmers with this much slower teammate. The mother of the child who was replaced on the relay (only for this one meet) went ballistic. “What are you doing? You are breaking up our fastest relay!” Gib saw what I was doing and worked his magic. He told her that the relay would still win and this deserving little boy, who came to every practice, would finally win a ribbon. He also said that her son would go on to win many ribbons and would certainly make a mark in life while this disabled youngster would always have a hard go of it. The woman started to cry, apologized and hugged Gib, thanked him, and walked away. The relay team still won. Years later I ran into the disabled boy’s mother who told me that her son had succumbed to one of his many health issues. She told me that every night before he went to sleep, her son would turn on the light above his swimming ribbons and other life treasures.

Gib never raised his voice or yelled at you. He didn’t need to. You wanted to do the right thing for him and not let him down. He told me that if I had 99 happy customers and he had one unhappy one that he made happy, at the end of the year, he would have more customers than me. He taught me about what was important. It always seemed that he knew exactly the right thing to do, and he did it with style and grace. He was strong and quiet and good. I am not sure that they make men like him anymore.

I have been lucky. I have had several mentors. Hobart M. Smith, a true student of his craft with nearly 2,000 publications in herpetology. David Chizar, the best lecturer I ever had in 14 years of higher education. Richard Jones, whose excitement for his science was contagious and appealing. Robert A. Taylor, who taught two generations of veterinarians and whose vision, dedication, and commitment was unmatched. Nevertheless, Gib Gardner, who died last month at age 80, was my first role model. In any challenging time I find myself thinking, “How would Gib handle this?”

Real mentors inspire us to do the right thing. They speak to our higher angels and hold us to a higher standard. I hope that I can be one quarter of the person any of my mentors are. Be a real mentor to the anxious, deserving young people around you. Help them to grow and to succeed. Be a role model and unselfish teacher. Be like Gib.

See you next week, Kev