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Do Good and Do Well: One Advisor's Way

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Sometimes you just never know how something you say or do will affect a life, or dozens, or hundreds, or thousands.

Sometimes you’re lucky enough to find out.

In the story I am going to tell, three dominoes fell. They started something 12 years ago that was, and is, amazing. They are still falling and are creating a story of authentic help, good will and success.

My wife, Joava, tipped over the first domino when she joined the Draper, Utah, Rotary Club. As she always does when she takes on a project, she gets very active. Things happen. In this case, she helped raise the money to build a park for the handicapped.

Rotary was on my mind when the next domino fell.

In 2003, I was having a conversation with a long-term client and friend, Bill Pickens, senior vice president-investment officer, Wells Fargo Advisors in Memphis, Tennessee.

At the time, he didn’t know if he wanted to retire, stay in the game or just go fishing. I told him, “Before you pack it up, why don’t you take on a project bigger than you. Rotary has a lot of good projects. Go join them.”

Soon, a third domino tipped.

As Bill tells the story:

“Not too long after I joined Rotary, I met an advisor in New Jersey from Wachovia. He was involved in a Rotary program called ‘Gift of Life.’ It provides life-saving surgery to children from Third World countries who suffer from congenital heart defects. They have no access to facilities that can save their lives.”

At the time, there was no such program in Memphis. Bill got to work. Lots of dominoes began to tip. As Bill tells the story, “I formed a group of Rotarians from Rotary Club of Memphis East to approach the new CEO of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital about becoming a participating hospital for GOL [Gift of Life].”

Bill continues: “We worked out an arrangement with Le Bonheur. The physicians and anesthesiologists donate their services. Le Bonheur provides the facilities for treatment. Our volunteers provide logistics and hospitality. I personally get their flight arrangements made to get them here. We have a participating Rotary Club appoint a welcoming committee to greet them at the gate and take them to the FedEx House across from the hospital.”

He adds: “While in surgery, we have a volunteer sit with the parent. We also arrange for a clergy member of their faith to sit with them until the child is out of surgery. We have a website for people to sign up to bring food and companionship for those families that are in a strange city where they don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language. It is the ultimate in ‘customer service’ and exemplifies ‘Service over Self’ [a Rotary slogan].”

GOL Mid-South started with two people (both named Bill) and now has a board of 18 members. Its mission statement: To promote world peace and understanding by providing access to heart-saving medical services for children throughout the world regardless of race, creed or national origin.

Bill notes: “From its start in 2007, GOL Mid-South has brought 60 children to Memphis for lifesaving operations from faraway places like Honduras, China, Nigeria and Central America.”

African Royalty

His Royal Highness, Olanrewaju Abegunde, the Olunaun of Unaun, is, for real, a Nigerian Prince. His son had been diagnosed with a hole in his heart and was failing rapidly. He has lost sight in one eye. His “good eye” had been damaged by an operation intended to repair it.

Being royal in Nigeria does not necessarily mean having the wealth necessary to pay for the medical care necessary to save one’s son.

Yet another domino was to tip.

Following publication of a story in The Nation, a national newspaper in Nigeria, a businessman in Lagos contacted Gift of Life Mid-South. On Jan. 17, 2015 the Prince and his son arrived in Memphis. After successful heart surgery, Bill and his team of volunteers contacted a top eye surgeon who repaired his vision in one eye.

After the successful surgery, the Olunaun of Unaun was asked to compare Nigerian to American medical care. He said: “There are no bases for comparison.”

He added: “After the surgery, the Foundation started taking us round. They took us to the National Civil Rights Museum, the Memphis zoo and other attractive sites; all at their own expenses. For three weeks, we were lodged in a mini palace, with full security, and a housemaid, who attended to us and took care of us.”

By the way, the Prince calls Bill “Papa”—obviously a term of endearment. Also, the “mini palace” was the FedEx House, a home away from home for families of children receiving treatment at Le Bonheur Hospital.

Step Back

Now stop for a moment. Think about the reputation of our country, tarnished and smeared by our enemies, our flag burned in streets. The families of 60 children, along with the Prince’s village of 10,000, simply know it’s not true.

They experienced firsthand the deep well of love and generosity of so many Americans making things better … one domino at a time.

Doing Well

If Bill had spearheaded Gift of Life to benefit himself, people he dealt with would have felt it. In my opinion, he would not have succeeded as he has.

But there is a law of reciprocity, isn’t there?

Some thoughts from Bill:

“In Rotary, you are meeting the people you would like to have as friends and clients.” “One company provides a fruit basket with an American flag.” “We want to make the emphasis that this is America, and this is what we do.”

“Most importantly, we are doing something for these families that cannot do anything in return. Their ‘Thank you’ is well worth our efforts.” “Some printers do our printing for free. Restaurants donate vouchers for meals. We in return promote them on our Twitter and Facebook pages.”

“The people I’ve met are all good people. If I have helped save 60 children, my life has changed beyond belief.”

What goes around ….

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