I talked about this about three years ago. As I remember, a young Matt Hudson took over as editor for NOLN, and this was his first introduction to my work. It’s not to repeat the article, but every year as the season changes and the backdrop evolves from the Thanksgiving Day parade to the glistening lights hung on houses across the town, Philip enters my mind.
I met Philip as an up-and-coming assistant manager before Hurricane Katrina (this is how we in Louisiana would judge a time frame). Philip was recently married with a young kid. He had a heart of gold, and I recruited him to be my assistant manager in a small two bay shop down in Chalmette, Louisiana. As a young manager myself, I was just taking over as the Director of Training while also taking over the busiest shop in the company. Back then this was a dual role.
Coaching Philip was usually easy. He was an all-star itching to get his hands on his own shop. As with most young new leaders he had plenty of mess ups. They were never too big, but they were met with the same heavy counseling. I was proud of Philip; he was to replace me at the number one shop. Then Katrina hit.
The Category 5 hurricane ripped through the town of Chalmette, dumping feet of water through the town that stayed for a while. The town was destroyed. Lucky my crew had gotten out of there, Philip left before the storm while others had to cut their way out of their attics and nab boats that were floating in their neighborhoods. Philip (like many evacuees) landed in Texas, where he would start his life over with his family until I called him back for a store manager spot in Mandeville, Louisiana. He was happy to be back home (or close to it). He was back working for the company and had a good spot. I was there, not as his direct supervisor, but as a mentor.
Weeks before Christmas, I shared time with Philip and a few other leaders. Philip gloated at the presents he would hand his kid Caleb in just a few short days. Later that evening I stopped by his shop on the way home. I found out that his assistant manager was keeping a handgun in the car and once again had to counsel Philip on policy and leadership. “You’ve got to get this together” were the last words I would say to him.
That night I received a call that there was an accident. I raced to the shop to find the assistant at the shop where Philip had borrowed his car. Philip took his car down the street to a church, and with the gun I told him about, ended his life in the parking lot. It rained so hard that night, and it was difficult to see through my tears that streamed faster than the downpour on my window as I made my way to the hospital. His wife rushed in to see the doctor, screams were horrific but could not match the noise in my head.
Days later, I walked my good friend to his resting place. Helping place him in his tomb was nothing compared to watching his wife pick up their son to kiss the top of the coffin one last time. The days at work throughout this were terrible to say the least. How do you sit in the shop he ran and work in the chair he used with the guilt of knowing that your words may have pushed him? Emotions would overwhelm me; procedures were halted several times a car to have a break down in the bathroom.
It’s been 17 years. I still don’t truly know why he did it. Yes, I still pack the blame on my shoulders. I think about his passing often, when I see myself forgetting to praise. When I see someone tucked away and isolated at the shop. I’ve been told time and time again that it wasn’t my fault, and I am just finally coming to terms with that thought.
I do not intend to draw tears from you today, but to draw thoughts from you as always. What if we praised as much as we preached? What if we took the time to know our teammates' struggles instead of distancing ourselves? What if we built leaders of communities instead of leaders of the shops? What if we let people know there is help, and we are there to help? Would we be changing oil still, or changing people?
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, dial or text 988.