It’s hardly a secret that as we get older, we know more people that die. But when a mentor dies, there is a unique kind of loss and heartbreak. We lose the future lessons we will not get to learn from them. We lose the person who saw in us the potential for more than we could see in ourselves. We lose a trusted and honest voice.
I met Joe Kandor when I was 22 and he was 40. It seemed like a huge age span then, but it diminished over time. He started out as my professor, became my mentor and transformed into a lifelong friend and colleague.
As head of the graduate program in Counselor Education at the State University College at Brockport, Joe was a calming and guiding force. As my statistics professor, he was ever patient; willing to support and tutor as I barely passed all of his courses that were required and a tremendous hurdle for the mathematically challenged. Having to calculate stanines is something I never quite mastered,. As an advisor, he understood that as one of the youngest people in the program, I always questioned and doubted my abilities. When I assumed wrongly, he gently pointed it out, and when I was spot-on, he told me so. As a mentor, he provided insightful observation about others and about myself, and his sharing of himself was a gift I was honored to receive and valued highly. He was smart and kind and rarely had a bad word to say about anyone. When he did occasionally get annoyed with someone’s behavior, he would laugh, almost in disbelief. Married for 58 years to his wife Jan – he modeled his values through his love for his family, his friends and his work every day.
When I left upstate NY, he came to the going away party, easily folding into my family and friends. We called, we wrote, and when I was in town, we’d meet up. I had the hard task of calling him when I learned of a mutual friends’ death and was so very honored when we both spoke at her memorial.
What I know is that even though I’m sad and a little shocked that he is gone, he has left me with a huge gift. His work lives on in me and there are many times his words come out of my mouth. Touched by his many lessons – I am his legacy. And I know I’m not the only person that remembers Joe’s wisdom, humor, and sweetness.
Being a true mentor is not transactional – it’s a relationship that is deep and often can be lifelong. Joe was one of the good guys and one of the people I often measure myself against. What would Joe say in this situation? What would he think about this? What would he do? What am I saying/thinking/doing?
By the time you are 40, it’s your turn to mentor. To see potential and talent in others and develop and nurture it is no small thing. It is how you contribute, how you connect, and how you develop a lasting legacy. There is no substitute for a great mentor.