Life lessons from a great boss

Published 11:18 am Tuesday, September 5, 2023

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At sixteen, my parents let me work and live on the Nantahala River five nights a week during the summer. My love of whitewater mixed perfectly with an entry level job at a rafting company. There is a lot of trouble a sixteen year old could get into with that sort of freedom. My parents weren’t stupid though, they knew my boss. 

John, the owner of the raft company, welcomed this scrawny kid to the team and in no time I knew how to back a trailer, stack rafts, and barrel up and down the Nantahala gorge in a 1980s Dodge van. 

Each day would start with John walking loudly up the stairs to an attic where we all slept. We would hear him say in his deep voice, “Well folks, it’s about that time. Boots and saddles.” 

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By the time our motley crew was out of bed, he had finished his morning coffee and was on the lookout for the first customer so that they parked perfectly in the parking lot. If not, he would run down a steep hill and yell “Hey!” with enough power to stop a semi truck. All day he ran up and down that hill making sure operations stayed on track and customers had a good time. 

One busy day, I was driving the Dodge van with a brand new trailer in tow. In my haste to get rafts back up the river, I caught the wheel well on the bumper of a parked bus. 

On the way back to tell John, I had already played out my firing in my mind. I hung my head and brought John to his new trailer to show him the damage. I immediately groveled, apologized profusely, and may have even offered to be an indentured servant. He said not to worry and don’t do it again. I started to apologize again and he said “Philip, shut up! You are forgiven.” I shut up and keep that memory of what grace is to this day. 

The best part of John as a boss were his dinners. About twice a week he would cook for the crew. We would all sit on the porch of the raft company, dine together, and laugh about people wrecking trailers and parking the wrong way. 

Around that table would be hippies, doctors, Vietnam vets, lawyers, scrawny high schoolers, and stinky college kids. Some folks were more liberal than a San Francisco mayor, and others would be so conservative they thought Rush Limbaugh was a liberal. 

 At that table I learned how to converse with folks that had different ideologies and beliefs. John would let a person know he disagreed with their outlook, but that person also knew that John was a boss that cared and had their back. Those dinners were almost a glimpse into Heaven. 

Last week, after a battle with Parkinson’s, John got to see first hand the heavenly feasts he modeled here on earth for others. With our mutually held beliefs, I cannot wait to dine with him again at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

May we all strive to lead people like John and be a good boss to others wherever we find ourselves in life.