October has arrived with crispness in the air, rich autumn colors glowing in the sunrise, and an air of reflection for me. Fourteen years ago, my beloved husband passed away very suddenly on October 9th. I like to honor his memory by reflecting on our shared memories. Skip Davis was ahead of his time — a mindful man with a deep appreciation for a joyful life.
Skip was generous with his heart and his wisdom. He was kind and compassionate. He would often say to us “Everyone has a story” — his gentle way of reminding us not to judge others. He would take the time to ask questions and actively listen for the answers when he met someone. He had a natural curiosity about people. He wanted to get the backstory on a person so he could better understand them and their behaviors, attitudes and opinions. He was mindful long before it became mainstream.
It was his innate interest in people that made him such a highly respected leader in the corporate financial world. Even before Myers-Briggs was introduced in the workplace, Skip would take the time to get to know his employees and make a sound assessment as to where they would find the most success and be the happiest in the careers. His attitude was “if you love your job and are given the right environment in which to excel, you will.” He was known to move employees from a technical job to a sales job and watch them flourish. Skip had a gift for recognizing potential and talents in people that even they did not realize they possessed. He’d take it one step further and ensure that they got the education, mentors and support system to be successful. When someone he mentored got a big promotion, he was genuinely happy for them and proud. He was not jealous of their success, but rather felt a strong sense of accomplishment in his contribution to their career advancement.
He conducted himself in the same caring manner at home with family and friends. I’ve never known another person as empathic and compassionate as Skip. It was almost as if he could walk in your shoes and feel your emotions just as you did. He earned your trust quickly. A man of high integrity, he never made a promise he couldn’t keep and he would go out of his way to demonstrate his love. Even when he was angered, he kept his cool and found a gentle way to navigate a tense situation. One of my favorite Skip quotes is this one: “If you want someone’s attention, just whisper.”
Think about that for a few moments. Rather than raising your voice and shouting a defensive remark that sparks a combative dialogue…….take a breath and lower your voice, calmly state your feelings and perspective. When someone whispers, we instinctively lean forward to hear them fully and we do tend to actually “listen” rather than prepare a quick retort. Calm is a powerful state of being.
Skip also used to say “the future belongs to those who prepare for it”. He wasn’t one to “wing” it when it came to work, travel or at home projects. He’d do his research, brainstorm with others (especially experts in their fields), review and rehearse — and always have a backup plan if something should go awry.
Little did I realize at that time that Skip was really giving me and others these mindfulness tools:
- Don’t judge others. Take the time to understand them.
- Your words and your actions should match. Have integrity.
- Stay centered and calm. Compromise is often the best option in conflict resolution.
- Being prepared reduces anxiety and builds self-confidence.
Skip had a zest for life that was hard to contain — just ask anyone who knew him! He’d enter a room and the lights got brighter, the energy ramped up! He was always looking for the positives — in people, in circumstances, in life.
Perhaps the greatest attribute that Skip possessed was resiliency. Skip experienced a lot of life’s adversities including the sudden loss of his mother in a tragic car accident, a brain aneurism requiring life-threatening surgery, serving in the CIA during the drug wars in Latin and South America, and a long career in international banking during the era of frequent mergers and acquisitions accompanied by massive job losses.
The greatest testament of his resiliency came on 9-11-2001. We were at the Biltmore in Phoenix, Arizona, for an annual international banking conference. Skip was a keynote speaker for several seminars being offered throughout the week and his sales team was in full force garner new business. Banks from all over the globe were represented with hundreds of employees in attendance.
In the early morning of September 11th, we were awakened by a phone call in our room. Skip’s colleague frantically told us to turn on the TV and remarked that “Amy won’t be flying home today.” We were in shock as we watched the second plane hit the Twin Towers.
You can imagine the chaos that unfolded as all those conference attendees, the Biltmore employees and other hotel guests began to assimilate what was happening in our country. Phone lines were jammed as everyone reached out in a panicked effort to connect to loved ones across the globe, terrified as more attacks were reported.
I witnessed my husband recognizing the elements unfolding, remaining calm yet taking action.
While other team leaders scrambled and called quick meetings in their hotel rooms to devise big schemes to hire private planes to escort their own teams back to their homes, Skip was pragmatic.
Skip knew that no one was going to be flying anywhere. He called the local rental car agencies and reserved as many vehicles as possible. He determined that a majority of attendees could drive across the country to their families. It was in fact the only option they really had. He also made multiple hotel reservations across the country, estimating travel times for major cities across the U. S. He determined that it would take 3 days driving 800 miles a day to get home on the East Coast. ( I should point out that this was long before iPhones, Siri and accessible GPS.)
Skip went to Biltmore management and arranged for large screen TV’s to be brought into the largest conference rooms so that attendees could gather together to watch the ongoing news coverage.
He and his team were scheduled to host a private dinner party at the Heard Museum that evening. Instead, Skip arranged for the caterer to prepare additional food and bring it all to the Biltmore where he provided dinner for all the conference attendees.
In the midst of all the shock, fear and helplessness, Skip remained calm and comforting to others. He encouraged people to be together, to offer support and compassion to each other. He gave a lot of hugs, looked people directly in their eyes and offered his soft, calming words of comfort and concern.
What resonated so deeply with me as I watched Skip’s resiliency was how he genuinely cared for all others. His personal resiliency was contagious and a few others followed his example. I believe that many of us found courage we didn’t know we had because of his leadership.
The definition of resiliency is the ability to bounce back quickly from adversity. Skip took resiliency to a new level. He not only personally recovered quickly, he reached out and offered support to others immediately. He shared by example.
Each year at this time, I reflect on how blessed I was to have been married to such an incredible man. Although our time together was much too short, the gifts he gave to me and our family stay with us forever. The best way I can honor Skip is to continue to grow in my mindfulness practice and to emulate his approach to life.