Friday, June 28, 2019

We Need Humble Heroes

Let me tell you about my personal hero, Harold Roloff. I know you’ve never heard of Harold, because I couldn’t even find a single speck of information about him on the internet. I was trying to find a listing for his obituary, so I could mention the year in which he died, but I came up empty.

To the best of my recollection, Harold died around 12 to 15 years ago. Here is how he became my hero:

The company where I work had just acquired a new line, that is, we made a deal with a manufacturer of HVAC equipment to become the local representative in Connecticut. Whenever this happens, it’s my job to take a crash course in the manufacturer’s entire product line, so that when a consulting engineer asks me a technical question about the equipment, I can confidently reply, “Um, yeah. Good question. I’ll call the factory and see if I can get you an answer.”

I was making arrangements to fly to Wisconsin for a few days of training at the factory, when someone said, “Hey, no one knows more about these products than Harold Roloff. And he lives right here in Connecticut.”

Harold had recently retired, but there was a problem: Harold had cancer and he wasn’t expected to live much longer. We contacted Harold to find out if he might be interested in meeting with me to discuss the technical aspect of the products, fulling realizing that under the circumstances he may not have been able or willing to do so.

Well, he was delighted to hear from us, but warned that he was feeling pretty weak and sometimes had to stop and rest if he talked for too long. We set up a meeting, and I drove to his home in eastern Connecticut, not sure what to expect.

Our four-hour meeting was, in a word, amazing. Harold laid out all his technical literature on the kitchen table. He went through the products and their features, along with the selection software program.

Harold would talk for about 15 minutes, then he would apologize and say he needed to catch his breath for a moment. He would close his eyes and just sit, waiting for some strength to come back into his body. I could tell he was very weak and in a lot of pain.

Multiple times I said, almost pleading, “Harold, we don’t have to go on. You’ve already been so helpful. Why don’t you go lay down?”

His wife peeked into the kitchen a couple of times, with a very concerned look on her face. But Harold just smiled and said, “No no, we have to keep going.” Then he looked me in the eye and said, “Bill, you don’t understand. I NEED to do this. I have so much information and experience stored in my head, and I just HAVE to pass it on to someone before I’m gone.”

After that, it was rather difficult to see the wiring diagrams clearly because of the tears welling up in my eyes.

Harold died about a month after our one and only meeting. Over a decade later, I still remember that day vividly.

Someday in the future, if I’m in a similar situation (later than sooner, I hope), I pray that I will be as selfless and caring as Harold was, so I can pass along whatever knowledge I’ve acquired over the years. I might have to sift through all the juvenile wise cracks and booger jokes stored in my head, but hopefully there is something worth sharing.

The most important thing Harold Roloff taught me that day is this: not all heroes wear capes.

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