Much Ado: Grow, learn, and move on

Published 12:31 pm Friday, May 6, 2016

After nearly three years of grooming and mentoring, the young man who came to me looking for work right out of college has moved on to a better job. I shouldn’t take it too personally; after all, he’s now working for my wife at the hospital in Columbus.

But I sort of do.

And although I was sad to see him take his friendship and talents from Sparkle City, S.C. to the Foothills of North Carolina, I knew it was time for him to take the next step in his own life’s journey. That’s just how life works: the young grow and learn, and move on.

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I’m still trying to not be too peeved at my wife for taking my assistant and making him her own.

I had known Cody Owens throughout his high school and college days. He went to high school with my daughter, Allyn, but I really got to know him through the Bi-Lo store in Inman. When I had the choice, I chose him to check out my groceries because he always asked about Allyn, who was a few years ahead of him and traipsing around the world, and he didn’t give me chastising looks when he would ring up a half-eaten bag of potato chips.

Cody is many things, and super nice at overlooking the oddities of human behavior is one of them. He would ask what Allyn was up to, and I would ask about his school work, and eventually I got to know him well enough that I would ask (and pay) him to feed my dogs when I was out of town for a few days. There was an almost immediate trust between us. I can give him a key to my home with complete confidence.

Along the way, I came to learn that Cody was studying communications at USC Upstate, and that gave us something else to chat about as he scanned my groceries and I challenged why the computer system would charge me 69 cents for some cans of dog food and 70 cents for others.

Like he would come to do often in the coming years, he would take the time to explain the complexities, joys, and frustrations of computer technology. I may not have always understood why there was a price difference, but I trusted his patient explanations.

In the natural course of life’s events, Cody graduated from college, and he—because he knew that I was in the communications business—asked if I knew of any job openings. He was out of college and looking for his first job. I briefed him on the communications—public relations, marketing, social media, writing, graphics, etc.—job market in Spartanburg, but at the time, there was nothing open. Best I could do was to offer him what we called an unpaid apprenticeship at the nonprofit agency where I work. Basically, he could volunteer to be free labor until something better come along.

It didn’t take long for everyone at my day job to realize the value that Cody had to offer. He took to writing press releases, designing posters, managing a website, and posting to Facebook like a fish takes to water, and I am sure he would like to politely challenge my use of a cliché in this column. Within a couple of months, he was hired part time and eventually full time. I have always enjoyed working with college interns and “apprentices” because I enjoy their fresh minds and can-do attitudes. And, I hope I have something to teach them as well.

For the next couple of years, Cody and I became comrades in arms against bad writing, bad graphics, and bad social media. We would proof each other’s writing, discuss the pros and cons of content versus style, and debate overly complex grammatical problems. I would like to think I taught him a few things about the communications profession, but I must admit he taught me a great deal about communicating with Millennials and how the world is changing. But we were more than just co-workers. Cheap lunches at Uncle Poons and Republican bashing were favorite off-duty activities. He is the kind of guy (and his girlfriend Ada) I invite to my family’s annual Christmas Eve party.

But good things do eventually come to good people, and when a plum job at the hospital came open, I encouraged Cody to apply for it. Both he and my wife were concerned about how I would react to him possibly taking the hospital job. I guess no one really wants to be at odds with their boss or their spouse.

And I thought: If one of my adult children were in Cody’s position, I would hope his/her boss would do what is best for a young person trying to make a better life for him or herself. I knew losing Cody as my assistant would very difficult for me, but I knew it was best for him. For what it might be worth, it was with my blessing that he became my wife’s assistant.

The foothills communities are very lucky to have Cody Owens counted among its working professionals. In just the few weeks since he’s been there, I’ve seen change for the better. He brings a new vitality, a high level of professionalism, and a sincere mission to make the world a better place. I know he is once again appreciated for just being himself.

I do wish, however, Cody were here to proof this column before I turn it in. There are typos to be found and bad transitions to be smoothed out. I’m getting to know my new assistant, Sean, a very promising young man with a degree in English. Time to teach and be taught again.