A tale of two dinners

Representing the newspaper at the “annual dinner” of a score of different organizations is part of my job – and not always one I look forward to. This week, as it happens, there were two back-to-back at the Canasawacta Country Club. Any week night I have to get out of my jammies and forego whatever I DVRed the night before is never one that thrills me in anticipation, but off I went to two separate functions – the Leadership Chenango Alumni dinner and the Hospice of Chenango County’s annual dinner.

Oh, how I loathe schmoozing. As a man typically hard-pressed to string more than ten words together (verbally, anyway), the constant flow of “Hey, how are you? Good to see you!”s wears on me after a while. That said, I do enjoy coming down from the Ivory Tower once in a while to mingle with the common folk. Keeps me grounded.

So off I went to two disparate “society” functions, content in the knowledge that after this many years, anything I’d encounter on the chicken dinner circuit was definitely old hat.

I’d wish my occupation hadn’t turned me so jaded if it weren’t for the fact that every once in while – and in this case two nights in a row – my “been there, done that, spare me from doing it again” assumptions are decidedly turned on their ear.

While performing the requisite glad-handing (thanks Capt. Morgan, you always know how to make my job easier), I actually took something away from both events.

I meant a lesson learned, not like I stole the Country Club’s silverware. I digress.

At the Leadership Chenango dinner, I was impressed by the wisdom of keynote speaker Daryl Forsythe of NBT Bank. Daryl’s got an easy charm I’ve always admired, and his insights into leadership and management style actually, although some of my staff may disagree, mirrored my own. It’s easy to see how he was able to turn the bank around in the 90s.

The night’s chief honoree was Dave Emerson of Oxford, who earned the prestigious Harry Tecklenburg Award. I only met the late Mr. Tecklenburg once I think, and quite frankly he scared me. I was a wet-behind-the-ears cub reporter, and he was a seasoned corporate exec who cut quite an imposing figure – literally and metaphorically. Again, his style of leadership and way of accomplishing the seemingly “improbable” inspired not only legions of his employees and community partners, but an award in his name that endures more than a decade after his death. That’s a tough act to follow, but obviously Mr. Emerson did. I’ve known Dave pretty much all my life, as kind of a shirttail relation (we all are down in Oxford) and of course from Blueox fame, and again his easygoing style is also something I’ve admired. Definitely not the buttoned-down corporate exec type, Dave rules his roost with a more folksy charm – but don’t let that fool you ... he’s as shrewd and insightful as they come. Like Tecklenburg, I imagine, he’s a true leader in every sense of the word, working tirelessly behind the scenes of so many community efforts I can’t spare the ink here to list them all.

Thursday night, the leadership theme continued at the Hospice annual dinner. Stitching my theme together here, I could throw in some folderol about all the “celebrity waiters” (myself included) who are leaders in the community in their own right and inspire blah, blah, blah ... but that would take the spotlight away from the true source of inspiration for the night – the staff, caregivers and patients of Hospice. Far from the end-of-life care drudgery and misery you might expect, the stories of the Hospice families are ones of celebration. I think last night was when my inner lightbulb clicked on and I came to the realization that I was again, like the night before, being inspired by leaders. Hospice’s “leaders,” in contrast, don’t sit in board rooms, run committees or own companies – they are doctors, nurses, volunteers ... and people who are about to die. They face life’s ultimate challenge – its end – not with withdrawal, anger or resignation, but with acceptance, expectation, and yes, inspiration. I can think of no greater testimony to the totality of one’s life than the dignity with which one accepts and greets its finality.

I find bravery every bit as inspiring as leadership. And I’m grateful that I got to experience both in the same week.

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