Daily Prompt: We all have our semi-secret, less-known personal favorites — a great B-side, an early work by an artist that later became famous, an obscure (but delicious) family recipe. Share one of your unsung heroes with us — how did you discover it? Why has it stayed off everyone’s radar?
When I first came to New England 30 years ago, I worked at a company that had close ties with MIT. I worked with an eccentric man. He was rail thin and had thin hair that seemed to always have a wild, uncontrollable side to it, speckled with dandruff. He was a cranky soul, and didn’t hesitate to ignore or out-smart people who were ignorant on a point. I sat across the hall from him and could often hear him chasing people out of his office.
When I first started at this company I didn’t know anyone, except this man. For some reason I began to volunteer to do work for him. I discovered he had been a TA at MIT, and had gotten his PhD from there. He turned out to be a wonderful teacher and friend. He organized a week long picnic at the Boston Hatch Shell where, every 4th of July there would be concerts every night for a week.
He lived alone, and didn’t drive. He took the bus home every day, stopping at the Stop and Shop to get a bag of oranges for dinner. At work, he would always have a container of cashew nuts. His fingernails were long, as though he were a guitar player. But I’m fairly certain he was not musically inclined. He always wore polyester pants. He was very humble looking.
One day, many years after I’d left the company, I got an email from our manager saying he’d died. He had been ill for about a week, so she went to his apartment to see what was wrong and found that he’d died. The cause of death was an undiagnosed cancer. He must have been about 60 years old.
Until the day he died, every single year I received a birthday card from him. Knowing how sensitive I was about my birthday, he never said a thing. The card would just be sitting on my chair when I came in to work. After I changed jobs, the cards would be sitting in my mailbox, he never stopped sending them. He’s the only person in my life who ever understood that I wanted recognition for my birthday but not a big, meaningless deal made out of it. I appreciated that this wild-looking man who was so gruff on the outside had the warmth and sensitivity inside to understand that in me.
He was my mentor and friend and work advocate, and he helped me become successful. There are people like him all over the world. They have brilliant minds to offer and never toot their own horns. They don’t have anything to prove to anyone, they’re confident just being who they are. Most people walk past them and never know. But the observant person who takes the time to pierce through their hard exteriors will see precious gems of wisdom just waiting for someone to mentor.