My 10 Most Unforgettable People

Starting today, and in the weeks that follow, my weekly blogs will focus on the 10 most unforgettable people that have influenced my life with the most impact. There will be no order chronologically; but the list really didn’t start until I was 16 and it is still ongoing; so the list will grow.

First on the list is Jim Fletcher, who died too young about a year ago. I am so privileged to have known him. For over 12 years, from 1982 when I met him, to 1994, when I left Washington State, he was a very solid mentor to me in many aspects of my life. We worked together in many different capacities; as an associate consultant with JGF and Associates, when I was working with the American Lung Association, and the Franciscan Health Care Foundation, as a job candidate looking for advice as I looked at different staff positions, and finally as a friend.

In 1985, Jim introduced me to the Chairman of Rainier Bank, who had been recently diagnosed with terminal emphysema. During a private lunch at the top of the Rainier Bank Building with him, Jim, and an American Lung Association Board Member research physician we were discussing major gift possibilities and having the Chairman become the honorary chair for a campaign to establish an endowed chair at UW for emphysema research. I made an offhand comment about not taxing him with too much work in his current condition and he turned to me and said, “Steve, I would hope you could find a nicer way to say what you just said, especially since you are representing the Lung Association” – he was clearly not happy about his impending date with destiny and I had set him off. Jim quickly stepped in and saved my rear-end by saying, “But what do you think about the idea?” The Chairman snapped back into the present, clearly was an impressive man, rose to the occasion, and gave it his blessing. Very graciously, he shook my hand on the way out the door and murmured that he looked forward to working with me on putting together the campaign committee and raising the money. 

In 1987, Jim and I arranged a meeting with KIRO TV (CBS) to promote the Freedom from Smoking in 21 days program, in conjunction with Surgeon General Koop’s visit to Seattle and hosted by the American Lung Association. They laid out a very ambitious schedule of events, dinners, press conferences, and TV spots to highlight the program and Dr. Koop and the American Lung Association of Washington; all at no cost to ALAW. The Executive Director of ALAW; I will call him Tom; was at the meeting; not my choice, as he was a very unimaginative, pedantic man and heavily influenced by his career in the military. Sure enough, after KIRO 7 outlined this incredible program that they were giving to us for free; Tom starts in on a rant about all of the reasons why it wouldn’t work and why it needed further study, blah, blah, blah. I looked around the table at the KIRO VP’s and staffers and they were absolutely stunned at this negative tirade from the Lung Association’s leader. Just as I thought all was lost and we were going to be politely shown the door, Jim jumps up out of his chair to 3” off the ground and exclaims, “But, isn’t this an incredible program and all at no cost to ALAW?” The ED actually started to respond, but Jim cut him off again with, “Tom, why don’t you and I just stand aside at this point and let the staff from both organizations work out the details?” At this point, Tom was totally confused, but he shut up and mumbled, “Sure”. The image of JGF leaping straight up out of his chair is one that has always stayed with me. The program went on to become one of the most successful public relations program I have ever heard of and cemented a relationship between Dr. Koop and ALAW that encompassed 3 trips by him to Seattle to work on its behalf. 

In 1988, Tom; the ALAW Executive Director, died quite unexpectedly on his sailboat in the middle of Lake Washington. I had moved on by that time to working with other organizations, but Jim asked me to help him maneuver through some of the minefields on the Board to get him considered as a candidate for the ED position. I arranged some meetings and made some inquiries within about his viability as a candidate, all of which came back as negative – he didn’t have the health education background they wanted. Rather than slug it out in the interview process as one of the 4 finalists, Jim’s comment was, “I don’t want to come in 4th in a field of 3”.

 In 1988, I was President of the NW Development Officers Association and spent nearly my whole year trying to (unsuccessfully) merge NDOA with the National Society for Fund Raising Executives. At the outset of this effort, Jim told me not to waste my time, as it would never work because of entrenched attitudes on both sides. His way of expressing this was classic JGF, “Steve, just fold up your tent and go home”.

In 1991, our firm, JGF & Associates, took on the St. Francis Hospital Capital Campaign in Federal Way for campaign direction. We had an ambitious goal to raise several million dollars in a small community that wasn’t even a community, but rather a bedroom stop for commuters to Tacoma or Seattle. It was a very tough campaign and we hit a solid wall ¾ of the way toward the goal and the campaign stalled. We discussed various strategies to restart the campaign during our campaign steering committee meetings, including one from me which was to take our sole star committee member from Weyerhaeuser, the company CFO, and turn him loose on asking for help from all of his peers on the various Boards he sat on around the country. Jim looked at me and said, “He won’t do it, so I am a 3 on a scale of 10 on that idea.” (He used that expression a lot.) (NOTE: I did ask the CFO to do this; he did, and we made the goal.)

 In 1992, I was interviewing for a job as Senior VP of the American Cancer Society of Washington State and I asked Jim to serve as a reference for me with the EVP, an old colleague of Jim’s from United Way of King County days. Jim’s comment to me was that he would do it, but reluctantly because, “Steve, they don’t wear the same stripes that you do; that is a different army than the one you are used to.” (He was right – I never fit in there.)

There are more stories, many more memories; all of them vivid, as JGF had a profound influence on me during some very fruitful and also some very rough years in my life. I know that I will always appreciate Jim throwing a goodbye party for me at his Issaquah home the summer I moved to Colorado - 1994 – and making sure that many friends were there to see me off. The last time I saw Jim was in 2003 when I was working on a hospital building project in Vancouver, WA and I drove up to Seattle to see him. Jim and I had dinner at the house, caught up on old times and new times and as we parted, he told me how proud of me he was for having done so much in the world of consulting. That is something I never heard from my own father and even if he had ever said something to that effect, it meant so much more coming from James G. Fletcher.

 Good-bye old friend.