mother elena comes to me

Well it’s been a bit, no apologies for the break here – it’s just been busy. Not too busy to keep journaling of course as I’m fast approaching 800 pages of thoughts that one day may be refined to make some sense of – then and only then worth sharing.

Perhaps worth sharing in something more formal than the blogosphere. No offense – these things just take work, and work takes time, and time takes away from tasks. Make time, someone I know would say. She’d be right about that…make it.

Today is Memorial Day. One of the foremost days of reverence that we celebrate collectively in these fine United States of America. It’s all the other days of the year that lead us to this day, that we should also be taking pause. I pray no soldier, sailor, airman or marine fall on this day, or any other day frankly – but especially while in service to our nation. Lest we not forget, that is what this day is all about. God bless every one of them.


The wall of service at my paternal grandparents house in Cibolo, Texas, Grandpa Daniel on top, dad underneath flanked by uncles and grandsons.

It was Thomas Jefferson who said, “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Time has proven this much to be true in life. And as my children grow older now, I think often about when this saga will end. I’m also hardened by the fact that it won’t. My only hope is that when and if their time may come, when and if liberty’s tree beckons to them –  that their shields be like the oak, their nerves, so many frozen leaves in the fall, and their roots – run deep and true.

We are not meant to bury our children, and even when the time comes do we feel that we are not meant to bury our parents either. The fact is, death is natural – but its raw experience … is anything but.

We lost mom a few weeks ago and rather than explain, I’ll let her obituary tell the story. In drafting, I couldn’t help but think of Professor Wernsman.  He taught me how to write an obit and in the end, always told us that he wished he didn’t have to be the one, but that we would remember him when the time comes. So, this one is for you Robert, you have no doubt looked her up by now for that dance …


Photo titled Pretty Lady on a Car taken on the road to Fort Pena by Joe M. Esparza for a photography course at Sul Ross University, Spring 1970

SAN ANTONIO – Elena Salmon Esparza passed away Wednesday, May 4, 2016 while undergoing open-heart surgery. She was 69.

Elena was born to Cande and Juan B. Salmon Jr. in Marathon, Texas, on February 19, 1947. A fighting Mustang alum, Elena attended Marathon Independent School District, graduating from Marathon High in 1966. She moved to San Antonio, where she attended Durham Business College, graduating in 1967 with a secretarial certificate. She immediately accepted a position with Texas Head Start, and moved back to West Texas settling in Fort Stockton. It was during this time she met Jose “Joe” Maria Esparza of Imperial, and the two were wed on June 22, 1968 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Marathon. Elena long described Joe as her “Prince Charming,” the love of her life, and for 21 years they shared a love for each other, for their family and their friends.


June 22, 1968 – Marathon, Texas

They made their first home in the far stretches of West Texas in Big Bend National Park, where Joe was a park ranger. They often spoke fondly of their time in this majestic national park where for years to come they would return for vacations. Later, they moved to Alpine, Texas, where Joe completed a BA in Industrial Arts at Sul Ross University. Elena also often spoke of their home, the historic red brick and rock cottages of Smith and Marquis Halls for married students – the area now home of the Lobo Village Housing Complex. A few of the original brick cottages have remained for historic and aesthetic purposes. After graduation, Joe took a job teaching in El Paso and there the couple welcomed their first son in the spring of 1971. By 1973, the couple left El Paso for Gonzales and later Kingsville where they welcomed their second son in 1977. Joe had made a career move from teaching, to U.S. Civil Service, eventually settling in with the United States Department of Agriculture as an associate for the Agricultural Soil and Conservation Service. The family found themselves living next to the historic King Ranch in Kleberg County.


Circa 1969

Elena was fond of the large ranch gatherings during their time there. In the summer of 1979, Joe accepted a promotion to a USDA-ASCS County Executive Director’s position and relocated the family to the Permian Basin, closer to their ancestral home. The couple lived in Garden City and welcomed their third son in 1980. In her years there, Elena completed her associate’s degree from Howard Junior College in Big Spring and worked for the Glasscock County Entomology Office in the historic county courthouse for many years. The years in Garden City were the last the family would all spend together. By 1988, the couple accepted another transfer to Jim Wells County moving to Alice, where Elena continued furthering her education at Bee County College. In the late summer of 1989, Joe died tragically and suddenly. Elena moved back to San Antonio to raise the younger two of her sons in Schertz. She became a paralegal while there, attending classes at the University of Texas – San Antonio. Elena worked several jobs while her youngest two completed grade school, and then high school at Schertz Samuel Clemens – living directly across from the school.

At the time of her death, she was an employee of the Texas Department of Public Safety – Crime Records Division in Austin, where she commuted daily from San Antonio for 17 years. Elena served as a volunteer Election Judge for the Texas Secretary of State’s Office for over 30 years; traveling the state of Texas working polls as a judge and Spanish translator – she never missed an election. Elena was very close to her TxDPS family. Her reverence for country could only be matched by her love for service to the great state of Texas, that which she shared with thousands of TxDPS employees across the state.

Elena is survived by her siblings, three sons and seven grandchildren: Alicia Layne of Alpine; Camila Estrada of Cleveland, Ohio; Juan Salmon of Kermit, and Maria Teresa Salmon of San Antonio. Her sons and their families: Leah and John Daniel Esparza of Austin and their children – Jacob Pecos, Joshua Brazos and Jack Sabine; Danielle and Javier Esparza of Vancouver, Washington and their children – Jacen Jose, Amelia Kate, Anna Elena and Eli Michael Ronald; and Joseph Esparza of Austin.

Viewing and Rosary were held Sunday, May 8 at the Schertz Funeral Home. The Funeral Mass celebrated Monday, May 9 at Good Shepard Catholic Church, followed by interment at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, Fr. Ed Pavlicek presided.

In lieu of flowers, the family wishes donations be made to the Texas Department of Public Safety Foundation in memory of Elena Esparza, by designating her by name, either by mail or online, TXDPS, P.O. Box 6178, San Antonio, Texas 78209, http://texasdpsfoundation.org/donate/.

The family wishes to thank all for the tremendous outpouring of overwhelming love and support.



The following are the remarks of the eulogy, although deviated from slightly, were delivered on May 7, 2016 at Good Shepard Catholic Church:

Good morning and welcome to the Esparza Family Reunion – on behalf of Leah and I, my brothers and immediate family – thanks for coming here today and helping us celebrate the life of our mother.

My Godfather called a few days ago and reminded us that days like this – as full of sadness as they start – they do become reunions.

Ya’ll know what happens at reunions right – no it’s ok, it’s a Catholic Church – we’ve already had our wine and father says there is always confession right over there.

Well, besides that – We ate a lot at our reunions, I’m ok with that – in fact, I expect mom who was almost always in charge of making the beans and rice at all these things – to come in – waving her wooden spoon saying, “yoo hoo – It’s getting cold!”


When my kids were young, they started calling her “Nana” – and shocking to me – she allowed for that…me and my brothers affectionately referred to her as “the tortilla factory.”

You know I would hear things… my mom would say to my boys… and would have to sit them down after she would leave to explain to them – that I have no earthly idea who that lady was that just left … being all sweet – but that was not the same lady that raised me and your uncles I assure you.

I could see the gears turning in their little heads – “why is dad always telling us how hard he had it and how mean Nana was? … I don’t get it.”

See I had to explain to them that Nana is getting up there … and she’s trying to get into heaven now – that’s not the same lady boys. I’m telling you – trust me…

Truly – it has been one of her greatest gifts to me and my brothers – to witness her enjoying her grandkids…and only recently, all of her grandkids together for the first time… In fact – just this past summer for what we couldn’t know then, but would be the last time too.

69 years on this earth, and she got all seven of her grandkids in the same place for mere hours – And I had never seen her riding such a cloud – we are reminded just how fragile life is aren’t we.


I was reminded of that when I was in her apartment on Friday and saw one clock set to the central time zone … and another set to the pacific time zone, where her other grandkids lived – those of you that work with her already know that, because she did the same thing with her office clocks – now THATS how mom loved.

You would never hear the words LOVE coming from mom – but these little guys sure did from NANA – and we all darn sure got it in big doses whether we wanted it or not…just in her way…


I’m going to say just a few words as we are on Fort Sam Houston time… and besides ….she wouldn’t have wanted me to linger up here making a fuss … in fact we all know she would have tried to “sush” me by now … you know how she was – such a passive personality – never spoke her mind or anything.

She sure had her way of getting ones attention – didn’t she?

Let me think back…A shoe, hairbrush, spatula, flyswatter, serving spoon, deck of cards…box of cake mix … as kids we learned…that before we delivered bad news to mom…we had darn sure better take pretty good inventory of what was in her arms reach around the room …and then of course take the appropriate defensive positions.

Now she may have stood about five foot-half inch – but the woman had a seven-foot wingspan and could crush walnuts between her fingers if she got a hand on you and if she couldn’t – she was deadly accurate with that right hand cannon let me tell you…

Oh I wise up quick … started bringing friends with me when my spidey sense started going off – thinking that company might restrain her – Dalton, Cody, even my cousins – I see you out there… you guys can attest.

You see even THEY quickly realized … that if a spatula grazed off the side of my head and hit you … with even a glancing blow?   – it was still gonna sting something awful –

…and Dalton and I used to regularly engage in BB gun wars with each other – how we still have working eyes in our sockets is beyond me. My gosh, we are lucky she never learned to take up shooting those things.

Yeah she never liked a fuss – but man did she ever make a fuss over all of us, in her own way…


26 years ago I stood before so many of you, over at the old church and at Fort Sam as we said farewell to dad.

The world’s not been the same nor ever will it.

We all had to find a new normal.

It won’t surprise you to know how mom took her new normal on. And I mean by the throat and with plenty of conviction.

I was 18, and had actually left home just a year before. My brother Jav was 12 and in middle school and my youngest brother Joseph was 8.

As sons and daughters we are meant to bury our parents – but just not too soon as kids and certainly not the other way around.

So mom, still young, always beautiful…took stock, saw she had plenty of work ahead with these guys – and started hoeing her row.

My brothers were grade school age – soon junior high, then onto high school —– mom took up an apartment on the second floor just up the road here and across the street from Samuel Clemens High. And I always found it odd, that I had some really unexpectedly happy memories there myself.

It was there I would return “home” from college over the holidays and take up residence on the living room couch… my brothers sharing a bedroom… and mom in hers.

Despite mother’s firm warnings, I would drive late at night.  I can now admit – that it was really only because she forbade it….

In those days …that’s how mom and I always were …always circling each other.

…and Major Norloh, if the statute of limitation has expired – I’ll say another good reason was I MAY or MAY NOT have ALWAYS HAD current inspection OR registration – I was always strapped for cash so… now if that has not expired – I did NOT just say that ok?

But I can’t tell you how many times I must have strolled in around 1 or 2 am – oblivious that I was causing mom to wait up and worry…

I know that now – I have teenagers…

After strolling in – at wee hours… I would just be settling into that big comfy couch she had… and would slowly waken to the ruffling of canvas, the smell of lemon and lavender …and the strange metallic gushing of what I would soon figure out to be steam blasting through stainless steal…

And there she would be.  In the doorway of the bathroom using only closet light for bearings as to not disturb me – working her third job.

Ironing shirts at 4 in the morning for the attorneys she paralegaled for during the day.

She’d light out by 6AM head to her day job and by 5PM, she would head over to Garden Ridge where she had a job there toll painting.

She’d come rolling in around 10 or 11 at night – get up at 4 and do it all over again – I had no idea until I came home that first break – just how hard she was working, but I was not surprised and got used to it as it became such common place. I just expected that’s what we all had to look forward to when we grew up.

And as for weekends and holidays – let’s not forget her 4th job cleaning houses. Man she just hustled non-stop.

4 jobs – three kids.  That was mom. You just weren’t going to put her in a corner – no way – no how.

Us boys – we learned so much – we had no idea. But she made us into visual learners – Mom taught us by how she lived…how she lead…she reminds us of that now in her death.

Always quick to put cash in your hand or make sure the pantry was full and the lights came on. Never once…not once, making any of us feel guilty about that.

That’s who she was – fearless, protective, yes – stubborn, my gosh wasn’t she stubborn!?

I can say that now —- cause —- no brushes or spatulas are around anymore!

Those of you that worked with her at DPS can say – Strong willed. Extremely dedicated. Hard working. Loyal forever.

All also correct – again, she taught us all – by how she lived. And she…did…live.

And a few days ago – Joseph and I were with her when she passed, her sister Maria T, Aunt Bodie, Aunt Linda – the disbelief …

The way I see it, she knew she had to fix her heart – although in many ways broken for more than 26 years.

On one hand, she knew if she were to just make it out – as we all clearly were expecting her to do… She’d tame the pain – and would have more time with her grand kids, her family – her DPS family, her friends, the church and beloved choir…

And on the other … she knew what awaited her– not just the everlasting, but the love of her life – patiently waiting.

Folks, either way she was good and she new it…I find an INCREDIBLE amount of peace in that fact.

And you know what, we all want to get there with her. Eventually. We just don’t want to die to do it. Death is a strange thing is it not?

I say this to my boys every time we lose a goldfish, a hamster, our family dog soon… and to my sons directly, I am so sorry boys … but there will be more.

What does dad always say boys – dying… is just a part of living.

One day we all do our part – just make sure you make YOUR mark on this world – as your Nana surely did – she did.


When the surgery was originally scheduled for Tuesday – the surgeon said…we should be able to take her home on Saturday – home before Mothers Day he said.

Then we had to push to Wednesday…and we said well – that’s ok – if all goes well, you’ll get to go home on Mothers Day – that will be nice.

As it turns out … things didn’t go as expected, they often never do … but mother…she made it home after all.




a challenge to keep

You know, you can do anything if you put your mind to it.

This is not just something your grandmother tells you and there are certainly excellent examples in our own lives of this.

It seems like every summer there is something or someone that takes center stage for their proverbial fifteen minutes of fame. Some with great cause and purpose, and others just juvenile exercises in who can flame out the fastest in the category of distaste.15-minutes-of-fame

Every so often something comes along that sticks around awhile longer than it’s intended fifteen minutes – and we are all actually ok with that.

This summer, all across the country, people including yours truly, were dousing themselves with ice buckets of cold water and all in the name of a charitable cause. You know the one, and there is a strong chance you even participated in some way – ice bucket or cold cash.

The Pete Frates family of Boston, Massachusetts is widely credited for launching the latest awareness blitz into the social media stratosphere and subsequently now into American History.

There were some other, early iterations of the cold-water challenge for other causes going back to 2012, but none so focused and perhaps so effective as what became affectionately known as simply, the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.”

By now you know how it works, but what you may not know is that the man who launched the challenge has been living with ALS for two years and he’s only 29 years old.

imagesNow October has got to be one of the best months of the year – and no, my birthday is not in October, but you do have football in full swing. Dove season is underway as well as white-tailed deer and turkey archery season officially launched. Texas is a sportsman’s paradise and it’s on full display with the cooler weather approaching.

In addition, another long and popular season is winding its way down to the apex – the boys of summer are whittling down their days on borrowed time as the World Series divisional championships are underway.

Pete Frates knows a thing or two about baseball, he’s a former Division I collegiate athlete with the Boston College baseball team and has worked tirelessly in a relatively short amount of time to spread awareness through the ALS Association’s Massachusetts Chapter. You are also likely aware that ALS goes by another name that evokes emotions among America’s Favorite Past-Time enthusiasts the world around – Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Lou Gehrig's Luckiest Man Portrait by Adam Port

Lou Gehrig’s Luckiest Man Portrait by Adam Port

“This is a creative way to spread ALS awareness via social media and in communities nationwide,” said Barbara Newhouse, President and CEO of The ALS Association in a press release dated September 7. “We thank Pete Frates and his family for getting so many people involved in spreading the word about ALS.”

In all of 2013, the National ALS Association reported $19.4 million in total donations. As of two weeks ago, they reported having raised over $115 million for 2014 thus far.

Needless to say, they are busy now trying to decide how best to invest this huge cash infusion into their mission of finding a cure and treatments for this debilitating disease. Unprecedented awareness has been achieved and is still growing. ALS reported 739,000 new donors, Twitter shares of 2.2 million with the #IceBucketChallenge moniker attached to it alone. Even the ALS chapters around the country are reporting a 30-100 percent increase in participants in their local organized activities. Truly a gift that gives in more that just dollars.

Now, for those of you who have been around the Texas trucking industry a few years, you will have come to know, or certainly run across the name McClatchy.

McClatchy Bros., Inc. out of Midland, Texas has been servicing the oilfield since 1944. Founded by brothers, D.A. (1902-1971) and C.V. (1908-1998) McClatchy, the business is still family owned today and under the careful tooling of C.V. (Cecil) McClatchy’s grandson Richard Minnix.

A generation in between, we find another unforgettable West Texan, Jim McClatchy who just turned 80 this year. Jim is the son of D.A. and was hands on at McClatchy Bros. for over 50 years.

McClatchy Bros. got its start in Wink, Texas in ’44 where D.A. (Dwight Alton) was actually in the dry-cleaning business. Jim was 10 years old when his father and uncle struck a partnership by purchasing 4 or 5 trucks. By 1948, they opened a yard in Snyder and at the request of the Humble Oil Company, another yard followed in Stanton in 1950. The business headquartered in Midland that year as well, where Jim graduated from high school.

"Roughneck Country" by G. Harvey

                   “Roughneck Country” by G. Harvey

As many of my frequent readers know, Jim’s health of late has not been as well as it once was. Jim also happens to be one of over 5,600 people who are diagnosed annually in the United States with a disease affecting the nerves and cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. That disease is called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS.

If you’re counting, that’s about 15 new cases a day. It can be said that “only” 30,000 Americans have ALS at any given time, and when you think about the millions of people in this country – well, that just may not seem like a lot to you. But when I think of Jim McClatchy, it sure brings it closer to home.

I share this not to ask you to feel sorry for Jim, no quite the opposite in fact. He knows exactly what he’s up against. I ask to encourage him in his fight, it’s getting harder for him to travel and get around sure, but I have it on good authority that he would love to hear from his old pals still out there.

“I have to say I am very proud of Richard, he is doing a really good job – a great job,” Jim told me on a Friday afternoon. “He bought me out in ’05 and my partner in ’09 and he still has some of my folks over there.”

“I’m just so proud of how good a job he’s doing and that when I decided to sell – he stepped up and took it on.”

Truth is, while I have known about Jim for years, he’s retired and I’d never talked to or even met Jim before our call. But as he shared his enthusiasm over his successor with me, he also shared a rich history of trucking in the West Texas oil patch that I will not soon forget.

We shared stories that people raised in West Texas could especially relate to and Jim’s passion was still very evident. Certainly that West Texas pride we both share was on display this day.
As our conversation winded down, he thanked me for calling him and even shared how he was proud a good West Texas boy was running things these days.

If his conversation with me was any indication of how he worked with so many of his drivers, technicians, clients and customers over the years – well it’s no wonder his success and pride are still evident. I’m even sitting a little taller in saddle over now having talked to him myself I don’t mind saying.

Jim is well aware of the challenge ahead and more than once expressed gratitude for his wife, for putting up with him and dealing with his ALS along side him, all the while caring for her 93 year old ailing mother in assisted living.

I asked what advice he had for someone in the trucking industry today and he didn’t have to think very long.

“I’ve seen this business in good times and bad. I was about to be chairman of TMTA (Texas Trucking Association) but we were in a real bad place at work and I knew I couldn’t be going back and forth to Austin,” Jim said. “No matter how things look right now, there will always be ups and downs in this business, you can count on that.”

What a metaphor for life – no matter your chosen profession.

According to the ALS CARE database, 60 percent of people with ALS are men and 93 percent are Caucasian. Awareness is at an all-time high and we are fortunate to have so many dedicated volunteers and folks who care about people living with this disease. And people like Pete Frates and Jim McClatchy who take it head on.

So while I don’t know Pete, I have a new friend in Mr. Jim McClatchy, and if you are among those that have called Jim a friend over the years, I offer a new ALS challenge to you and it doesn’t require an ice bucket.

Drop Jim a line, I know there are still a few readers out there that know him, it would do him well to hear from you. Jim admits he’s learned from his mistakes in business like any good businessman would, but I know he’s not wrong when it comes to the value he puts in good relationships and in good friends.


well don’t just sit there

One of the greatest humorists, social commentators and just an all around good old-fashioned, common sense philosopher was also a vaudeville performer and an Oklahoma cowboy named Will Rogers.

Don't just sit there!

Don’t just sit there!

He once said that, “Even if you’re right on track – you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

Last week, a group of trucking stakeholders including Jetco Delivery, Great West Casualty Company, the Port of Houston Authority and the Texas Trucking Association hosted the first of its kind Houston Transportation Safety Day.

The gathering was attended by friends within the trucking, port, shipping and law enforcement communities – all of whom came together to promote and share experiences within their own cultures of safety.

As such, we had the privilege of having one of the members of the National Transportation Safety Board fly-in from Washington DC to join us for a keynote presentation.  The Honorable Robert Sumwalt shared a timely message of which one observation in particular stuck out for me.

Simply put, good safety translates to good business – but Sumwalt shared a personal experience, which I could tell struck home with this captive audience.

He talked about the importance of creating and rewarding a culture of safety.  To describe that, he shared a story of an investigation the NTSB had recently completed in which it found a company at fault for reasons you might not guess.

A longtime safety executive who through NTSB’s research had been determined to be very well trained, well informed and who also had the safety professionals who reported to him very well prepared.  He had simply been in charge when a mishap occurred with dire consequences.

Robert Sumwalt, a board member with the National Transportation and Safety Board, speaks at a press conference after a UPS cargo plane crashed at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Ala. on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. The jet crashed into a field near the Birmingham airport Wednesday, killing two pilots. (Mark Almond/malmond@al.com)

Robert Sumwalt speaks at a press conference after a cargo plane crashed at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (Mark Almond/malmond@al.com)

When interviewing the top brass of the company, NTSB discovered they had fired him.   They were hoping to demonstrate to NTSB that they had solved the problem, that there were consequences at this company for such failures.

Quite to their surprise, NTSB instead admonished them for harboring an environment where employees are not encouraged by their own best practices.  Not all errors should be punished.  The NTSB investigation found that the company had taken all the precautions, all the necessary steps to prevent the accident – it was just that, an accident.

The message here was simply to treat employees fairly.  In doing so, you encourage and reward your people for bringing information to you.  By firing a consummate professional who oversaw an unintentional error, they unwittingly demonstrated that they are more than willing to punish regardless of intent.  That it would be wiser to keep information from them.

It is recklessness and deliberate risks that warrant the greatest punishment.  Instead, the company had fired its most valuable asset to its own future safety fitness, as NTSB saw it.  And thus the true purpose of any post-accident investigation, if it can be determined – is where is the fault?   What can be done for this company’s future – what can be learned to prevent something like this from happening again?

The most successful company executives know that safety cannot just be a priority – it has to be a core value.  As an example, priorities change around my office on a daily basis, and frankly they had better lest we not meet our stated goals.  However, it is core values that serve as our steadiest guides.complacency

We not only have to make safety a core value, we have to display a chronic unease so that it keeps us on our toes.  You can go from complacency to catastrophe in moments.  How do you avoid this?  It’s simple – don’t get complacent!

Leadership is about influence and we should be asking ourselves daily how we use that influence to make our surroundings safer, for trucking how that translates to our drivers and equipment.  It takes an obsession with safety and leadership to avoid the normalization of deviance, where shortcuts can become a normal practice.  Or worse yet, we lull ourselves to sleep with selective compliance, as Will Rogers so eloquently put.

We must commit to demonstrating safety in all that we do – our safety behaviors are patterned to meet our demonstrated priorities, not just our stated ones.  Make certain our practices follow our policies.

TXTA Intermodal Committee Chairman, Jetco President and Houston Transportation Safety Day organizer, Brian Fielkow, shared a favorite quote by legendary coach Vince Lombardi in his closing remarks last week at the Safety Day that bears repeating.

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection – we will catch excellence.”


this is the law of combat (and boy does she make it plain)

PFC Jay Kimbrough circa 1969 - Vietnam

USMC PFC Jay Kimbrough circa 1967 – Vietnam

(Editor’s note: Originally written and posted on Memorial Day, 2014 while  Jay was still recovering from a motorcycle accident. Updated in his honor and shared in his memory. Texas has lost a fine man, a friend to many, a patriot and Texan to the end – S/F PFC Kimbrough RIP)

A friend to me and countless others suffered a bad motorcycle accident somewhere on the road to Bryan, Texas last Friday. This is no ordinary man, a decorated Marine who always referred to himself as, “Private First Class.” As a matter of fact, he once told me that his life was never as simple as it was when he was a young PFC. I know as hard as those days were for him, you could still see that certain longing in his eyes that is present in most all who served as he had. I saw it every time he spoke of those days which wasn’t very often.

Jay Kimbrough is recovering in a Bryan hospital still today, and slow as it is – it’s not the first time he’s been broken. As a PFC in the Marine Corps way back in the late 60’s, the chopper Jay was riding in was shot down in a dank jungle in Vietnam. He survived the crash, but was in heavy enemy territory. Having been shot down and now shot-up, things were looking pretty dire. However, a fellow Texan had other plans and after saving Jay’s life, among others that day, the Texan was awarded the Silver Star. Those two were reunited 30 years later incidentally, a great story for another time.

Kimbrough, JayWell, Jay made it back of course and the rest is history. He went on to become a lawyer in the USMC Judge Advocate Division and later, Bee County Judge in South Texas. He also went on to serve the state at many leadership capacities and developed a reputation for his ability to not just fix problems, but clean up troubled state agencies.

Well respected by governors, legislators and statewide elected officials alike, Jay is a tremendous Texan, a proud patriot and formidable leader. Jay is also still fighting for his life this Memorial Day.

When he reads this, he’s going to be some kind of ticked that it sounds like a eulogy, but Jay my friend, it’s not that – not by a long shot. I haven’t seen or talked to Jay in months, but the lessons I learned from him during our time working together are never far from my mind.

It was one of those days sitting across from one another in a small charter aircraft somewhere over Texas that he spoke of a poem which he has never been able to get out of his head. One he read in Leatherneck magazine while also on a plane – but at that time, flying from the United States over to Southeast Asia against the backdrop of a cold blue ocean, and into the unknown that lie ahead as a newly minted 19-year-old United States Marine.

He spoke of how the poem came to define the struggles he realized ahead of him, what came to be his own story – but admittedly the same as countless other Marines, Airmen, Sailors and Soldiers who were all sent overseas. I was enthralled that such a written piece existed – having read only once on all those years ago, could leave such a lasting impression. It was clear to me that poem haunted him, still some 30 years later.  I knew right then exactly what I had to do.

After weeks of searching – it was found.  Jay had given me just enough.  I knew the magazine name and the time of his deployment.  Jay would offer that confirmation as soon as I handed it over –  and there it was, volume 50, issue 11, starting on page 66 of the November 1967 issue of Leatherneck magazine – The Law of Combat, by Ralph E G Sinke Jr.

Now those who know the hard-charging, Harley riding, knife-toting, f-bomb dropping “PFC” Jay Kimbrough best, will not agree with what I am about to say next.  But his response to receiving that  poem was the closest thing to an emotional reaction that I would venture to say any co-worker had ever seen from Jay.

Courtesy of the Dallas Morning News

Courtesy of the Dallas Morning News

I’ll never forget the look when he realized what was before him, and I was just happy to find something my friend has long awaited to read again – the reaction was certainly reward enough.  Jay took it further of course and after soaking in what he was holding, retold the story how they impressed upon him over the years since that time and of how he had ached to read them – and so he did.  Like he was sitting on that plane to Asia all over again.

This Memorial Day, by God’s grace we wont be memorializing my friend Jay. However, he and his family could sure use your prayers.   As for me, I will think of him and the many like him that cannot be with their families this weekend.  I hope to catch a few good John Wayne war movies and think about those many sacrifices that were made by so many men and women called into service.

In the Texas Capitol  - photo courtesy of www.statesman.com

In the Texas Capitol – photo courtesy of http://www.statesman.com

Going back to the time when this great state was struggling to become Texas – to the flooded trenches, the poppy fields, the hedgerows, black sand beaches, rice patties and the cold rock ravines of later times.  You name the place, if liberty and freedom was on the menu – American blood was shed to solidify the ground once again …new blood over old, new tears over sweat.  And we all should swell up with pride on this day and every day frankly, even more so knowing that should the call come tonight – we will answer it. We always do, it is the law of combat and PFC Jay Kimbrough knows it too well.

“…The bullets whine and search,And snarl about their ears,

And as each man fires back,

He blazes through his fears.

Now a fire team rushes forward,

In a blazing, raging wedge,

And the choking screams of wounded men,

Sets every tooth on edge.

Then suddenly it is over;

And Stillness reigns as Queen;

No sound is there to tell of death,

Yet still, there’s the blood’s red gleam.

Now comes the time to report,

To the stalwart leaders who’ve led,

Now is the time to count,

Your wounded and dying and dead.

And you look old Death in the eye,

And you know how stern is his sway,

And the hurt that builds up inside you,

Is of a million years and a day.

But you have a job to do,

And you do it without knowing how,

Who gives a damn for eternity?

For you, all-time is now.

The choppers have taken the wounded, and

There comes a stabbing of sorrows,

They’re alien, strange, yet you know,

They’ll be with you for all your tomorrows.

And then comes the piercing pain,

Of a grief that bludgeons you dumb,

And you long for the warm wet wash,

Of tears that will not come.

But this is the law of Combat,

God, how she makes it plain,

Once you have come through my borders,

You’ll not be the same again.

If once you enter my fearsome fold,

If you’ve the guts to endure my ways,

I’ll make you a changed but stronger man,

For now and the rest of your days.

She calls the strongest of spirit,

Those who thrive in battle’s red rage,

The bravest, the toughest, the greatest,

Men from a Viking age.

If you have the fine-fierce fiber,

She’ll steel your heart and your brain,

Yes, this is the law of Combat,

And God; how she makes it plain.”

–Excerpt from THE LAW OF COMBAT

Ralph E.G Sinke Jr., Leatherneck

Copyright Marine Corps Association Nov 1967


a rose for caroline

The day after the Dow Jones Industrial set a record high – closing for the first time ever over 16,000 points, we pause and remember a record low for our country.

Today, the weather outside is fitting, not just for the time of year of giving thanks, but particularly for commemorating the 50th anniversary of the day America lost its innocence.  Across this great state it is fitting that the skies weep.  After all, we went from an era of great hope and optimism, to one of great distrust and cynicism – on one sunny crisp fall day, following three fatal shots of an assassin’s rifle, at Dealy Plaza in downtown Dallas.

The 35th President of the United  States

The 35th President of the United States

The “City of Hate” is the unfortunate moniker that stuck far too long for the southern city that in the early 60’s, was still shaking off the era of Jim Crow.  Fifty years and Dallas has certainly come far from that community of approximately 700,000 people to the bustling Metroplex it is today.

However, that will forever be a part of our history here in Texas, Dallas in particular.  Happier days have certainly come and gone, but on this solemn anniversary we can count our blessings for not only all those happy days, but certainly for the sacrifices of so many to make this nation great.

The Kennedy family sacrificed on that day and the world cried along with them.  And for that family, unfortunately history dictates that they were far from through.  But on this Thanksgiving, I know I’ll spend time giving thanks for those like Kennedy, who perished so that this nation could prosper.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was not alone – not anywhere near.   And to this day patriots continue to join the sacrificial ranks.  The long grey line that started way before Kennedy’s time continues today, and will go on into perpetuity.  It’s quite a big club actually.

To put it in terms closer to home, it’s also about people such as 29-year-old Army 7tSpecial Forces Group Staff Sgt. Alex A. Viola of Keller, Texas.  Sgt. Voila died this past Sunday, Nov 17 in a far away land – Kandahar, Afghanistan.  He died with his boots on as they say, and the American flag on his shoulder.  Or for example,  his colleague, 28-year-old Staff Sgt. Richard L. Vazquez, of Seguin, Texas who was also attacked and killed only four days earlier on Nov 13,  He too was on a dismounted patrol, but this time in Panjwai, Afghanistan. Patriots all.

You see we don’t have to look far to find someone or something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.  Family, health, good food, good friends, the blessings are many – but we do have to look, and we most certainly should penitently pause.  And as well we should on more days than just Thanksgiving.

For centuries our Roman Catholic Priests have said these words over our fallen,  “Te absolvo a peccatis tuis. In nomine Patris et Filio et Spiritus Sancti, amen.”

In an article from the New York Herald Tribune, dated Nov. 24, 1963, beat writer Jimmy Breslin describes the moment Father Oscar Huber administered the sixth of seven Catholic Sacraments and the last this President would receive on Nov 22nd 1963, somewhere around 1:00PM.   The translation – “I absolve you from your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, amen.”

As Father Huber finished praying over the President, he anointed him with holy oil and uttered the final words of, “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.”  The First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy almost interrupted and stoically, added her own, “…and let perpetual light shine upon him.”  From that moment on, perpetual light became a theme she insisted on, rightfully so as history has proven.

"JFK inspired a nation"

“JFK inspired a nation”

She never cried.  This amazing woman remained composed through it all.  As if sensing the nation needed her to be strong and she was – she did exactly that over the course of the coming days, weeks and years.  Until her own last breath, she lived as gracefully as she proved to be as the nation’s First Lady. Amazing grace some might even say. Camelot was indeed an amazing ride.

President Kennedy was good friends with Poet Robert Frost, a frequent guest at the White House and often cited his work in his speeches – one of his favorites I’ll use here.  It has been referred to, many times over the last 50 years and I have run across it often over the last several weeks:

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep – and miles to go before I sleep.”

President Kennedy inspired a nation; he stared down the Soviets and averted a nuclear catastrophe.   In a very short time he set so many things in motion.  Good things.  Furthering the Great Society Legislation that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had begun.  He inspired a generation to reach the moon by the end of the century, which we faithfully fulfilled.   He laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and so much more.  And much to his credit, what Kennedy inspired, Lyndon Baines Johnson carried out – forcefully when necessary.  In a way only he could.

LBJ was to be tested and the Texan was not without his faults, but little known are the more tender moments not often reported.  The text below is from a letter LBJ wrote to a very special little girl, 50 years ago tonight:


November 22, 1963

7:20 Friday Night

Dearest Caroline –

Your father’s death has been a great tragedy for the nation, as well as for you, and I wanted you to know how much my thoughts are of you at this time.  He was a wise an devoted man, you can always be proud of what he did for his country.

Courtesy of the LBJ Library

Courtesy of the LBJ Library


Lyndon Baines Johnson


It is also fitting that one of the last men to serve President Kennedy was a simple workingman, a fellow WWII veteran – Clifton Pollard a native of Pittsburg.  A veteran of the 352nd Engineers battalion in Burma, Pollard was also interviewed for the Tribune by Breslin in 1963.

He was a gravedigger at Arlington National Cemetery who when the phone rang at his home early in the morning on Sunday, November 24th, he answered knowing his boss would be on the other end of the line by saying simply to him, “I’ve been waiting for you to call, I’m on my way in.”  At the time, Pollard made $3.01 an hour.

“He was a good man,” Pollard said. “Now they’re going to come and put him right here in this grave I’m making up, you know, it’s an honor just for me to do this.”

This Thanksgiving it is men like Kennedy, Johnson, Pollard, Voila and Vasquez that deserve our thanks.  Men and women who can’t be here today to enjoy the many freedoms they have helped to provide.  All with promises they themselves made and intended to keep but were cut down short of their time, leaving so many miles to go before they sleep.

But who is to say it is their time?  I think you know the answer to that.  This Thanksgiving in my home we will give thanks for all those unfinished miles and for those peacefully sleeping – grateful for the opportunity to do our part on this fantastic journey.

Aaron Shikler's famous painting of John F. Kennedy, based on a candid photograph taken by White House photographer Jacques Lowe.

Aaron Shikler’s famous painting of John F. Kennedy, based on a candid photograph taken by White House photographer Jacques Lowe.


a message to esparza

Long about the turn of the 19th century when the United States was embroiled in war.  Communications as we know it today, or more specifically as we have come to take for granted, were extremely critical in battle.  The most effective of armies held an edge in battle that was as important then, as air-supremacy would later become.

You had to be able to communicate quickly.  And for the United States and President William McKinley, he saw the value in establishing contact with the Cuban rebels who would prove to be a great ally in the war with Spain.  The year was 1899 and the Spanish were in control of Cuba.us-president-william-mckinley

And as such, President McKinley asked his closest military advisors for an extraordinary officer who could make personal contact with Calixto Garcia, the leader of the Cuban revolt.  He knew the perils of negotiating the jungles of Cuba.  He knew he was seeking a needle in a haystack, sunk in an alligator infested swamp with hostile Spanish soldiers patrolling the surface to boot.  He knew he needed a miracle.

After much collaboration amongst those who bore rank, ribbons and medals – it was decided that what the president needed, was an army officer by the name of Andrew Summers Rowan.

Rowan came to the White House and was personally handed a message to deliver right into Garcia’s hands.  Rowan did something next that makes him extraordinary, and for generations to come – a symbol of American can-do attitude.

He sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart and set forth without any further instruction – for none was needed.  No he didn’t have any particular insight, nor did he have a fool proof plan.  He gathered provisions and made arrangements.  He landed off the coast of Cuba at night and disappeared into the jungle.

Three long weeks would pass and while some surmised Rowan was at the bottom of a murky swamp having met with the business end of a Spanish sword – instead Rowan came out clean on the other side of the island.   Against insurmountable odds, a simple American serviceman completed what he believed to be a simple task.  Rowan had successfully delivered the letter.

Rowan was not a local, he had never even set foot in Cuba, and no one on the island that would talk to an American had ever even been able to find Garcia before.  Yet Rowan did not so much as ask who he was, or where he was for that matter.  He didn’t ask why he was selected, or why he should even have to do this.  Nor did he ask what was written in the letter, or whom he should contact about helping him get started.  He simply took the letter and set foot on his mission, returning only when it was completed, and much to the satisfaction of the President.


Captain Andrew Summers Rowan

The story is the subject of an old movie from the 1930s based on an even older essay by Elbert Hubbard, which I highly recommend, titled – A Message to Garcia.

We all seek that selfless initiative in the people we surround ourselves with at the office.  They not only make the most successful of military officers – but the most important of lieutenants for you at work.

The author implores us not to be average, if not show initiative then at least the ability to be “ready-reserve.”  In Aggie lore, it’s the story of E. King Gill who didn’t make the football team, but when injuries plagued the Aggies during a critical away game, the coach remembered he had cut Gill who was in attendance up in the stands with the Corps of Cadets.  And the coaches order to Gill – suit up and get ready.  Your team may need you!

Hubbard puts it this way:

“Slipshod assistance, foolish inattention, dowdy indifference, and half-hearted work seem the rule; and no man succeeds, unless by hook or crook, or threat, he forces or bribes other men to assist him; or mayhap, God in His goodness performs a miracle, and sends him an Angel of Light for an assistant. No man, who has endeavored to carry out an enterprise where many hands were needed, but has been well-nigh appalled at times by the imbecility of the average man – the inability or unwillingness to concentrate on a thing and do it.”

Is his essay Hubbard praises the individual who is anything but average.  He does his work when the boss is away just as well as he would if he was there.  He is the individual who quietly takes the missive without question or lurking intention – who simply gets the job done.

It’s what I like to call around the office, “has a good case of the GSD (Gets Stuff Done).”  He strikes parallels to the employee who can’t afford to be let go or whose cloths are never threadbare for lack of employment.

Since the turn of the century, “to take a message to Garcia,” has come to symbolize the expression for taking initiative and is still in use by many members of the military to this day.

My own brother, a decorated US Marine veteran in his own right, recently reintroduced me to this essay.  Quite by accident as it were as I happen to be in earshot when he began telling the story of Captain Rowan to my sons, a great lecture on “taking initiative.”   As he spun his tale, a rush of memories ensued, and I was reunited with an essay from my own youth.

As we pause today to pay tribute to the veterans of our armed forces.  Men and women who stood up when their name was called – showed that initiative and raised their right arm and swore to “stand beside her and guide her, through the night with a light from above.”

Who took that initiative, and blended it into the olive drab uniforms worn by so many, who in service to our beloved country humbly found that they were actually not cut out to blend in, but instead, born to stand out.

Let us not forget the Captain Andrew Rowans of this world, who peacefully lies today at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.  Or Bill Brooks who was laid to rest Saturday in Pflugerville, Texas – himself a Marine, veteran of the Korean War, beloved husband and lifetime partner of our own Dorothy Brooks.

Let us give thanks to the Captain Tory Houses of this world.  Who dropped his children off at school before clocking in at Campy Mabry just this morning.  Or the Capt. Javier Esparzas of the world for burning more than jet fuel over the skies of the Middle East just a few short years ago – quietly sharing dinner tonight with his wife, Capt. Danielle Esparza, their son and new daughters.

Capt. Javier Esparza

Joshua Esparza and Capt. Javier Esparza

And for the Corporal Joe Esparzas of the world, who left more than empty shell casings on the streets of places like Ramadi, Hit, Fallujah and Haditha.  Here with us today passing along great lessons to nephews across this great country.  For the Private First Class Daniel Antonio Esparzas of the world – who left it all in France, Austria and Germany.  Who to this very day seemingly sits in a silent world, but hears mostly the loud ringing of the lasting damage from the constant shelling of all those yesterdays ago.

Let us also remember the six hundred, whom Lord Alfred Tennyson referred to in his masterful poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade:

“Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die.”

The world cries out for such leaders, individuals who, if we are doing our job right, we surround ourselves with not isolate ourselves from.  Who make us better than we actually are.  Those who depend on us to lead – depend on us to do so by surrounding ourselves with leaders just like Captain Rowan.

Cpl. Joe A. Esparza

Cpl. Joe A. Esparza

Who help us to raise our children, to teach our most precious gifts, to console our heartbroken or to share experiences only they can share to help make us all better citizens, better husbands and wives, better bosses and employees, and yes – especially to make us better leaders.

It is because the individual who can carry a message to Garcia, has the power to tell the world to wait – the patience to make his or her own fate, and like water – they just simply find a way.

When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made!

All the world wonder’d.

Honour the charge they made!

Honour the Light Brigade,

Noble Six Hundred!


In Loving Memory of Bill Brooks


how rotten is my apple?

Ever been overcome with the need for a good re-charging?  Before returning to work, my father could take a ten-minute nap while home for lunch and would practically leap out of his chair when he was done.  I timed him once, ten minutes exactly – like clockwork, never set an alarm.

I’m talking about a different kind of re-charging actually, more of a company reassessment and regrouping.  This is healthy, normal and more notably – not done near enough by far too many organizations.

A few weeks ago, executive committee members and leaders from within the Texas Trucking Association dedicated some time to take a strategic look at the direction of the organization and assess the progress from the past year.

The grades were great, but perhaps more importantly, our compass was recalibrated.

Steven Covey once said that organizations move at the speed of trust.  It is inherently critical that your team members feel that your organization represents values that they themselves share.  However, trust must flow both ways.  People don’t typically leave bad companies – they leave bad managers.

one_bad_apple_10533Conversely, you may also realize that it’s equally important that you recognize when a team member does not hold the same values that the organization shares.  One day you may look up and have a much bigger issue at hand because you have failed to recognize the spoils soon enough, and worse yet – properly address them.  Remember there is no faster way to pickle a barrel of apples than to allow the ones that are fermenting to remain in the dark.  It goes without saying, those should be tossed out sooner than later.

That is also what good strategic planning entails.  Now you have just identified specific goals and set specific deadlines.  Do you have the proper tools to make it happen? The right people?

Nothing is better than knowing you have the right personnel in place.  Sure there is always going to be constant tweaking on that one, but no one likes to be in the dark.  To clearly communicate those goals – you may have to engage in constant clarification of your mission.  Far too many organizations struggle with engagement, and it takes strong leadership and clearly stated goals to combat that.  Constantly encourage the discipline and focus it takes to achieve those goals.

Lastly, and most importantly, have a little fun along the way – don’t take yourself too seriously.

Here’s a note I got recently from my son’s teacher following a nature hike on 6thgrade field trip:

“This email is to inform you of a behavior event that has been recorded for your child (Joshua Esparza). The details of the event are listed below:walkingstick2

Date of Event: 09/27/2013

Reported By: (Teacher)

Event: Level A Demerit – Non-compliance with school procedure

Description:  The event does not fit this description exactly, but it is non-compliance w/the expectations of LCRA (Lower Colorado River Authority). A student knocked an almost 5 inch long walking stick off the side of a building and Josh saw it, instead of moving the insect to a safer spot. He took his boot and completely mashed it to death. The field trip was about nature and he had been given instructions by LCRA personnel about expectations regarding animal life when we first arrived.”

No matter how clearly the instructions, there will be lapses.  Use them as learning experiences  but make sure they aren’t habits.  It takes good leadership to step back and see lapses for what they are, and sometimes they’re just clean strikes at good pitches.  Be it skill set, personality, human nature, or whatever… judge wisely and move forward.

Personally, walking sticks always gave me the willies too – I guess the apple, rotten or not, doesn’t fall too far from the tree after all.


always look for the helpers

A few weeks ago, Americans paused to remember the 12th anniversary of the tragic attacks we have come to know as simply “9-11.”  My first born is now 13 years old.  Every year at this time, when I reflect on those terrible events, I take myself back to being a new father of barely a few months.

I distinctly recall the stark contrast between the horrors on television, and the peaceful rhythm of my son’s breath on my neck as he slept while I watched the atrocities unfold that morning.  Some moments in time are indelibly burned on your brain forever… this was one of those.

More recently, when the explosions occurred at the Boston Marathon, my middle son curiously asked about them.  You see from what he had already learned about 9-11 to date was understandably upsetting him.  This, as I knew would be, was inevitable.

My second born practically came into to this world with a concerned look on his face.  He is my planner, he tends to have the most angst about how things are going, or not going to work out.  He’s not one you can ever satisfy by saying, “Josh, don’t worry, it will work itself out.”  I have learned that statement tends to have the opposite effect on him.

He wants to know what the plan is – he quietly takes it all in.  His silence following any explanation is broken only with concise questions seeking clarification to the dilemma at hand.  He needs to know who’s calling the shots.  And he will darn sure let you know if he doesn’t think whoever that is, can’t follow through with those plans – yourself included.

Fear has a way of cutting through the conversational pleasantries when talking with him.  There’s no bull with this one, he’s going to let you know what is on his mind pretty quickly.  I have also found that absent leadership, he often carries those plans out himself.  An amazing and incredibly mature trait for an 11 year-old boy, I just love that about him.

Now all three of my sons attend a small school across the street from the University of Texas in Austin.  And, every time some wiseacre calls in a bomb threat, approximtely 225 Pre-K through 8th grade students get their world turned on their wet little ears, while teachers, caretakers and first-responders alike go into immediate action.jdeUSA

All threats are taken very seriously and given the unfortunate frequency of these crazy occurrences, well you can imagine the anxiety that builds up over time for kids who have no memories of their own when it comes to 9-11.  What they have seen are the pictures and videos afforded them in this day and age of technology.  You know this, If they want to know about something, they “google it.”  I have found this to be a fairly typical origin for a first impression for this generation and more and more, unfortunately, we are left to explain.

So, my son who worries, asked me this simple question on the morning of September 11, 2013,  “Dad, do you think that can happen again? Do you think it can happen here?”

My mind immediately began swimming, I could hear the voices of my father, mother, wife, grandparents, even my own voice as I was rifling through scores of things in my mind I have heard or read – searching.  It was like my brain was sifting through masses of audio files – processing.  That little hourglass or pinwheel was spinning on the monitor of my brain and just when I thought my son could actually see the empty in my eyes, my thoughts locked – I had something.

I’d like to believe the years of on-the-job training as a dad and maybe even as a kid myself as it turns out, all kicked in.  Because just as I knew this was going to have to be a very good answer, as this kid especially is never going to forget the words I’m about to say here – a familiar voice popped in my head.  I knew what my son was really asking.  And I found myself paraphrasing simple words borrowed from a childhood icon, Fred McFeely Rodgers.

“Son, when I was a little boy and I would see or hear scary things, I would always look for the helpers.  If something terrible ever happens, and I can’t be there for you, I want you to just remember that there will always be people there who will help you – always look for the helpers.”

I couldn’t lie, he’d see right through that.  I did ultimately share that I thought it was highly unlikely, but the simple truth that I didn’t share is sadly – yes I suppose it could.  But like any father, I wanted to share something positive, something comforting.  I pray everyday the he would never have to rely on that advice, but God-forbid if he did – I want the first thing that goes through his mind to be that of the multitude of first-responders we have in this world.

MrRogersBefore Mr. Rodgers was a famous television show host he served his community as an ordained Presbyterian minister. That would come to no surprise to the millions of kids he imparted his wisdom on every morning for so many years – yours truly included.

He was so respected that he once had his car stolen in his own hometown, and when the news broke – the thieves returned it to the exact spot it was taken from  – with a note of apology.

Every September 11,  we all pause and return to that spot we were when we learned of the terrible events of that day.  Not a day goes by that we don’t have an army of first responders ready to jump in at a moments notice to remove innocent bystanders from harms way, or to apply life-giving first aid.  Often at the risk of their own safety.

So as you reflect on all the souls lost on that fateful day, when you utter the words “we remember” to yourself in the shower or on the way to work or wherever you find a quiet moment in your day to reflect – also remember the helpers. Wherever there is something bad happening, always look for the helpers.


if he just hadn’t intercepted that pass

Now all is right in the great state of Texas.  No, it’s not that we solved our transportation funding needs. Sorry, not yet anyway.  And we still have to scurry when hurricanes come calling on our gulf coast – that may be a hard one.  And while we are at it, no, we have not found enough fresh water solve all our problems either.  It’s much bigger than all that, it’s Texas schoolboy football and it’s off and running!

And thank goodness – not a moment too soon.  It’s the first indication that fall, and more importantly, fall weather is lurking nearby – at least we sure hope so.  I can hardly repress my own excitement seeing how my own children are also so deeply ensconced in the sport as well.  And this time of the year, it’s a good thing the clock moves quickly when you’re having fun – that’s very important when it’s still 100 degrees at kickoff by the way.

It’s not that it’s just that time of year to be focusing on football, but to compound the fact, I received an article from dear friend that she read in the Amarillo Globe-News that gave me great pause.  One quote in particular resonated.

The quote comes from the former White Deer Head Football Coach, Windy Williams at a reunion of sorts for a team from the Texas Panhandle that for me will always remind me of what might have been.


Courtesy of the Amarillo Globe News

Players from the 1988 1A State Champion White Deer Bucks gathered in Amarillo this summer to reminisce about their perfect season.  I was a 17 year old tight-end and defensive end on a team that fell two points short of advancing against them in the UIL State High School Football playoffs – one lousy point to tie, two to win.  And actually in those days when games were tied up you didn’t go to overtime or flip a coin, instead you turned to who had the most offensive penetrations.  That was simply how many times your team advanced the ball into the opposing teams territory, inside the 20 yard-line.

It was a classic battle – two talented teams, destined to slugging it out on the grid-iron since two-a-day practices started in early August, winner take all.  We scored late in the fourth quarter to match them and the potential game-tying extra-point was about to step onto the field.  We knew we were about to tie the game because our own sure-footed All-State Quarterback doubled as our kicker, and the kid just didn’t miss.

Our head coach called a time-out to study what I call the “what–if” factor.  And he was right – scoring was a premium that night and having just matched White Deer in scoring the 3rd touchdown of the game with little time left, our coach surmised we were down by one penetration.  The statisticians with UIL on the sideline confirmed it, and in a tied Texas High School playoff game in 1988, that was as good as a loss for us – and we were going for the win!

Still the right decision today as it was 25 years ago.  But that doesn’t make the sting any less.

White Deer’s own ace quarterback and defensive back, Bart Thomas, thwarted our efforts to score that two-point conversion.  When the last second ticked off the clock that night, it ended in a 21-20 defeat for us.   It was the day after Thanksgiving at Lowrey Field in Lubbock, Texas, on one cold and very crisp West Texas Friday night.  Bart intercepted that pass and changed the fate forever of brothers on both sides of the ball, bonded by a wonderful sport.

It was a magical ride that goes down in Panhandle Lore even today for the White Deer Bucks.  While the Bearkats would go on to see two state titles in the coming years and dozens of playoff trophies, White Deer would only see one playoff win over the next 17 years.  But for that night, and for me and the rest of the 1988 Garden City Bearkats, the state quarterfinals were just not to be.


Courtesy of the San Angelo Standard Times

There isn’t a day that goes by when I watch a high school football game that I don’t think of my old teammates.  Last week, the Amarillo Globe-News writer Lance Lenhart asked Coach Windy Williams about that interception – 25 years later, “I’ve always thought how different things would be if he hadn’t intercepted that pass.”

You see, the rest of the games in the playoffs for White Deer that year were won handily, all the way up to the State Championship.   Coming from the losing side of that equation – the quote is quite the understatement.

But football taught me many things about life that I can only hope to pass along to my own sons.  My wish for them is that they may have their own experiences like this also, and hopefully learn from them as I have. You have to know what failure tastes like to learn to hate it so much.

Loss can be a great motivator, but unfortunately it motivates by it’s lasting impression.  On that particular night.  There in that visitor’s locker room in the north end zone after the game, knowing I was taking that jersey off for the last time with the brothers I had bled with, sweat with and broke bone and bread with, I knew it was the end of the road.  I had gone to battle with these guys time and time again since junior high, and the stark reality of it hit me.   And for the first time since the first day of summer two-a-days my freshman year – I lost my lunch.

I have never forgotten that burn ever since.  If team sports taught me anything it was that.  The pulitzer prize winning writer, H.G. Bissinger would soon begin working on his most acclaimed piece,  Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream, about the 1988 Odessa Permian Panthers.  Years later it spawned a successful television show in which the saying, “clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose,” was popularized.   Well, I still hate to lose to this day, but that experience also taught me something of great value – to expect the unexpected.

In preparing for White Deer, one of our defensive coaches kept warning us – harping actually.  Everybody in the state was talking about their quarterback and defensive star, Bart Thomas.  Bart went on to play for Coach Fisher DeBerry at the Air Force Academy the following year.  Meanwhile coach kept insisting that we had better not underestimate Bart’s younger brother, a freshman starting at the linebacker spot. The upstart was also the leading tackler on the team, a freshman – that really got my attention.

I recall coach walking over to me during a skills walk-through session and slapping the side of my helmet with his playbook and dry-erase marker lid in mouth barking something to this effect while scribbling on his laminated notes full of X’s and O’s:  “I’m telling you guys, this kid plays like no freshman I have ever seen on film or scouting anywhere in the state – he will put his nose right in your ear and your going to find yourself suddenly looking up from the grass at him grinning.”

Well, as it turns out, Zach Thomas left White Deer after his sophomore year and finished his high school career at Pampa.  He traded his schoolboy cleats for Collegiate All-American ones at Texas Tech and later spent a 12-year career in the NFL as an All-Pro with the Miami Dolphins and finished his career with the Dallas Cowboys.  Putting his nose in the earholes of much larger and faster men than the ones of the 1988 Garden City Bearkats that late November day, on Lowrey Field.  I can personally attest, on that particular day, he did a pretty good job of doing just that.

Our paths crossed again over time while we were both students at Tech and we always talked about that game.  The consolation for me was it was the toughest game I had ever been a part of and the closest when the stakes were the highest.  That’s exactly where you want to be.  Unfortunately there has to be a winner and a loser, despite what the rest of the world today thinks when it comes to competition at 12 years of age, 17 years of age, 32 years of age or 92 years for that matter.  It’s not “everybody wins” – its win, lose or draw folks.

Zach’s assessment in the Amarillo Globe-News last week was pretty profound and bears repeating here.  “That’s the best experience of my whole career,” Thomas said of White Deer’s 1988 season. “No doubt. I never sniffed another championship my entire career.  I know how hard it is to win a championship no matter what level. I learned in football it’s not about one individual but about winning as a team.”


Jake celebrates a play-off win over the Weslake Chaparrals with a family friend

When young Jake P. Esparza and his Southwest Austin Bulldawg team won the 2012 Central Texas Pop Warner Football Division Championship last year, his head coach gave a great speech to a captive audience of 11 and 12 year-olds and their families at the December football banquet following the season as a proud papa looked on and reminisced.

“Boys, look around at each other, you will always be able to say you are champions. You may play football for another 20 years and never see another championship season.  Champions are rare and the love you have shared with your brothers here this year is like that championship medal on your necks – you have all been bonded by something that can never be taken away from you.”

Jake’s coach was right – as was Zach Thomas.  The accolades are special but the bonds are something that can never be taken or broken.

We spend our careers striving to be champions at something.  Whether it’s Football, Technician or Truck-Driving.  Or just trying to be the best boss or owner we can be.  It’s important that we celebrate our achievements along the way.  Crow about them, because as we like to say in Texas, “It aint braggin if it’s true!”

But do celebrate them, and along the way you will grow to appreciate the bonds you forge with the people in this industry that make your daily work worth doing.  To borrow a line from a great sports movie, Bull Durham, “…sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes – it rains.”  And into each life a little rain will certainly fall, but everyday you toil at it – you learn and strive to be better than the day before.  That’s a champion my friends.


Southwest Austin BullDawgs Central Texas Division II Champions 2012


this labor day – much of america was actually laboring

Labor Day just isn’t what it used to be – though I think we can safely say that about most things. Or as Dylan phrased it, “The times they are a changin” and though he was speaking to a more politically and socially charged issue than a federal holiday, the same sentiment can be assessed of Labor Day’s evolution, or reversion for that matter. Image

From its inception and first governmental recognition in 1886, Labor Day was meant to pay tribute to the “contributions workers made to the strength, prosperity and well-being” of our nation. Paying tribute by providing a holiday to celebrate those contributions.

An article in Time magazine properly titled This Labor Day, Much of America Will Be . . . Laboring stated that ironically many workers across the country now will be spending Labor Day at work or looking for jobs. “Bloomberg BNA data shows that 39 percent of employers will keep operations open and require some workers to come into work, while a separate survey of Beyond.com users says that 45% of those folks will spend Labor Day working or looking for work.” An interesting departure from its original purpose.

But as we look at this contradiction, it begs the question – if we cannot slow the cogs of industry on a day federally devoted to praising the influences of and the resulting progress or workers – then when and why is it even important to do so?

Most all of us personally know what a challenge a day off line or out of pocket can be; even if it is a pre selected one!  Unplugging, disconnecting and unwinding can be an unnerving and difficult task in this day and age – an age of “constant electronic noise”. But the importance of doing so cannot be lost.

A New York Times article I ran across a few years ago put this in a very reflective perspective for me.  The reporter followed five neuroscientists on a week long camping, hiking and rafting trip down the San Juan River in a remote area of southern Utah.  “It was a primitive trip with a sophisticated goal: to understand how heavy use of digital devices and other technology changes how we think and behave, and how a retreat into nature might reverse those effects.”Image

“If we can find out that people are walking around fatigued and not realizing their cognitive potential …. What can we do to get us back to our full potential?”

As the researchers continued through the weekend, it was noted that the group became “more reflective, quieter, more focused on the surroundings.  Even without knowing exactly how the trip affected their brains, the scientists were prepared to recommend a little downtime as a path to uncluttered thinking by the end of their voyage.”  And though their motivation was centered on the effects of digital media and stimulation on attention and focus, it is an interesting parallel to our world of busy, rush and hurry.

Now lets apply that to Monday.  While we are all acutely aware that freight does not stop moving and America needs our trucks and drivers to do their expert jobs even when the lights go down or the government holds a holiday, it is imperative to know the benefit of unplugging, disconnecting even if only for a single day.

Most importantly, its about getting to the root of what this holiday, this Labor Day, is about — celebrating those honored jobs, the workers committed to them, opportunities provided by this industry and the families that benefit from the goods that flow on the backs of American transportation.  Benefits that provide for us all.

With that thought, I hope you all had a restful Labor Day and the time to truly unwind, unplug and be thankful.


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