I rarely get invited to join anything. When my friends Dan Ryan and Robin Seydel Ryan invited me to an organizational happy hour for a newly forming chapter of the Rotary Club, I decided to attend on general principles. Unlike Groucho Marx, I’m flattered by the invitation, and in any event, several people suggested that I shouldn’t venture out in the snow and that was incentive enough to do so.
I mean, I’m a St. Louis girl, right? We ain’t afraid of a half-inch accumulation and temperatures in the 20s. Besides, I have a front-wheel drive Saturn Vue and a tankful of gas. Not to mention a cell phone and a AAA card. Off I went — the scant two miles to the 75th Street Brewery.
The group ranged from late 20s to late 60s, from current Rotary members there for “eye candy” and curious professionals wanting to have a fresh networking opportunity. I eased myself from group to group. I introduced myself, took names, chatted, had a Virgin Hot Chocolate and ate two belly-bombing Mac ‘n’ Cheese balls. Delicious but oh, does my stomach hurt.
After the speeches and the come-ons, which in fact made participation sound appealing, the mingle-and-meet accelerated. I slid past my doctor and his wife, squeezed the shoulder of folks whom I only see at Dan and Robin’s annual Mardis Gras parties, and ended my crowd-cruise next to the food table along with two people who at first seemed like a couple but whom I quickly realized did not know each other.
Both looked vaguely familiar. I judged each of them to be a few clicks closer to their later years than I am. They also each stood a solid three inches shorter than me, and I’m barely 5-3 if I stand as straight as possible in thick-soled shoes. The man had a one-name tag on his sweater — “Will” — and of course, I asked if he were comparable to “Cher”. He spared me a minute smile and said that no, his last name wouldn’t fit, and nobody would remember it anyway. I goaded him until he told us; then the woman and I laughed together. We drew a connection between his name and something to which he made objection but he let himself be persuaded to share our mirth. And he told me, too, that he knew me: and told me from where. As I apologized for not remembering him, the woman sighed and said, It’s a small world, isn’t it? about the time that I saw her name.
I know you, too, I told her. I knew a man with your last name at least, perhaps. . .I knew who she was. The widow of a lawyer who stepped forward and treated me with decency in my early days of practice. Smart, quirky, a loner, the man plodded along at his chosen area, and at a time when I needed a friend, let me use his office without asking for compensation. i squatted, basically, at the invitation of him and his office-mate.
Years later, the man fell into some rough days; and a half dozen years ago, he passed from this life. I attended his visitation, lingering at the back of the room and leaving quickly. I observed his wife, but did not speak to her. Tonight, I put my hand gently on her arm and testified to her husband’s memory. For me, he has never stopped being one of small cadre of lawyers who gave me the hand that they had once been given, and pulled me along into the ranks of solo practitioners by giving me a chance; by mentoring me; by treating me as though I had some credibility and value.
If anyone who reads this knew Bob Sundblad, then you know the gentleness of the man and the quietness of his kind character. All of us make choices that we might wish we had not made. Bob might well have been no different than any of us in that regard. But this choice, too, he made: He helped a young lady lawyer who had nowhere to hang her shingle, and did so without making her feel in the least bit shabby, or lame, or inconvenient. I hold close to my heart what Bob did for me just as I hold what my other mentors did — Loren Rea and Chris Lewis; Larry Gepford and Leonard Hughes; Jim Lyons, Jeff Alena, and Danny Matula. All of these lawyers and others looked past my naivety and my clumsiness. They let me in their club, despite my inherent unworthiness.
I’ve tried to honor those who helped me when I was young. In return, I ask nothing, but I hope that one day, those whom I have helped will do the same for the next generation. We owe this tribute to all who have come before us and who did the same for us.
For the kindnesses of yesterday, we offer the kindnesses of today, and of tomorrow.