vive ut vivas – A Tribute to My Friend & Mentor Joe Gilpin

vive ut vivas – A Tribute to My Friend & Mentor Joe Gilpin

Live so that you may live.  The phrase suggests that one should live life to the fullest and without fear of the possible consequences. My teacher, mentor and friend, Joseph Gilpin helped to instill this into my soul.  Joe was an amazing soul, a Bostonian priest who ended up teaching Latin in Bradenton, FL.  Joe passed away unexpectedly in September 2021.  It has taken me a while to process what exactly Joe meant to me.  This is my tribute to my teacher, mentor, and friend. 

Joe Gilpin circa ~1983

I’m not sure how or why I signed up for freshman Latin at Bayshore High School in the Fall of 1980, but nonetheless, I ended up in Joe’s class.  I think I decided that learning the root of all romance languages would be a good base for any other language and for college. The first thing I learned was that Joe was not like any of the other teachers I had ever met. Joe cared first about us.  Each of his students mattered a lot more than the topic he was teaching.  We spent much of our time together in class discussing life, family, politics, and philosophy.  

Smoke in toga at a Latin Club event

Yes, we did learn Latin, and I would end up spending four years in his class, in leadership in the FL Junior Classical League, doing well on the SAT and learning a tremendous amount about the Roman Empire and the root of our language.  It most certainly contributed to me being the only student at Bayshore to be admitted to and attend an Ivy League University (Cornell). That said, I learned a lot about life, philosophy and perspective that simply could not be taught in a book.  I also was a less than stellar student of Kathy Gilpins for Freshman English.  Sorry Kathy (I mean it!)

Joe challenged us to think.  Something I fear has mistakenly been lost in much of our education system today. He would never accept your first answer.  Instead, he challenged his students to think and explain. For this, I put Joe into 5+ most influential people in my life. 

He was a champion and leader in the teaching of the Classics.  He and his wife Kathy and later his son Christopher, would trek all over the country to attend the National Junior Classics League events https://www.njcl.org/Teachers/Latin-Honor-Society  .   I was fortunate to attend the Florida JCL and win an award for the clay model of a Roman leader (LOL).  

The Latin Club (Kathy is far right next to Smoke and Joe is far left)

Student Council leadership….(before)
Story on the incident in Tampa Tribune

Not everything was roses in our relationship.  Joe was the faculty sponsor for the Student Counsel, and we attended the Palm Beach Gardens, FL meeting for all the High School Student counsels together.   Youthful indiscretion led a couple of us “Leaders” to bring some bottles of liquor to the convention.  We actually successfully “partied” during the event without incident, but the next morning Joe stopped by our room, and we had an empty bottle of Jack Daniels sitting by the TV.  He saw it, looked at me and teared up.  He had no choice but to report our indiscretion. This led to an embarrassing and public suspension of the guilty officers (not all) of the Bayshore HS student counsel. One of the other students had a family with money and they ended up suing the school because it wrecked his 4.0 grade point average.  I don’t know what ever happened with that, but I do know I had to explain my suspension on all my college applications.  Despite the situation that we experienced together; Joe wrote me recommendations to all my college choices. This included Cornell, MIT, Princeton, USC among others.    I ended up getting a full ride to USC but chose Cornell.  Princeton didn’t get it.  

A not very happy Joe on the way back from our student council convention!

The Gilpins at our Wedding

I always stayed in touch with Joe, albeit sporadically.  When I remarried I invited Joe and Kathy.  They unexpectedly accepted and joined us for our blessed event in the desert of Las Vegas in the Spring of 2008 along with about 100 of our family and friends. It was an amazing experience for us to reconnect and to share that magical time together.  On the funny side of things, my wife Anitra and I had a limo and everyone else was sent out to the Red Rocks Park on buses. As we were about to leave Vegas in our Limo, Joe and Kathy ended up missing the buses.  Of course, we had them join us for Veuve Clicquot in our wedding limo. Needless to say, certain things were not possible with Joe and Kathy in our limo (LOL) but it was as special moment together.  

We were blessed to have them join our family at this magical event.  I only wish we had another time to hang and reminisce.  I learned of Joe’s untimely passing through his son Christopher on Facebook back in September.  I knew I wanted to write a tribute to him and his influence on me and so many others, but it took me a while to put my thoughts together and express my gratitude.

Joe and Smoke at Red Rock State Park in Nevada

The Roman poet Horace wrote, “Seize the day; put no trust in the morrow.” or as you might recognize Carpe diem, in Latin form. In the spirit of what Joe imparted on me and so many others, vive ut vivas; Live so that you may live.  I don’t think any of us living through the past couple of years during the Pandemic think about life quite like we did before.  Never has it been more important to live your life fully.  I try to do so each and every day and wish that upon each and every one of you.

Joe’s official obituary can be found here.

Giving Thanks To Mentors: My Gratitude To Andy Paine, Jr.

Giving Thanks To Mentors: My Gratitude To Andy Paine, Jr.

As we live our lives, we all lose family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Sometimes, we lose someone who meant something very special at some point along our life’s journey.  For me, that someone was Andrew J Paine, Jr., who passed away this week after a battle with cancer.Andy lived a full life, raised a great family and has many great accomplishments as one of The Business Leaders of the Indianapolis community for decades. The Indianapolis Business Journal did a nice job in their tribute here Banking titan Andy Paine dies at age 80.

Andy was one of the first people I met when I moved to Indianapolis after Cornell University. He was warm and inviting and we immediately connected on some of his work in the community. He was leading an effort with the Japan America Business Council which led us to long discussions on international business and relations.  At that first meeting at my father-in-law, Jim Lacrosse’s house, Andy invited me to join him for lunch at his office. Little did I know that lunch would transform my life.

Andy and Jim were close friends, Indiana National Bank was one of two leading Indiana banks and Andy was, by then, the President (INB is now JP Morgan Chase). But when they met, Andy was the loan officer who ended up pushing through the loan that allowed Jim to buy the $11 million National Liquor Company (Later $1 billion National Wine & Spirits and now part of $8 billion RNDC). Needless to say, they were close, but Andy and I hit it off independently.

When I arrived at the Indiana National Bank tower, I was unaware that we’d be dining in the CEOs private dining room. At 22, I was wet behind the ears in business, but possessed high ambition and the willingness to do whatever it took to make my mark. I think Andy sensed that and somehow felt a connection and the desire to help channel my raw energy.  That’s what mentors do.

At that lunch, Andy said to me,

Smoke, you need to get involved in the community early on.  Don’t wait until later, do it now. I want you to meet David Hicks (then president of JA of Central Indiana). JA is something you can help with now. I also want you to go through the Stanley K Lacy Leadership Series, but you will have to wait until you are at least 27.

He talked about the importance of giving back in the community and getting involved early. That it’s an obligation for each of us who do well and thrive in our communities to give back to those communities and to people who need a leg up.  Andy appealed to the best in each of us and translated that into action for me.

When I applied to business schools, Andy wrote me recommendations. When I led the Distinguished Lecture Series at Vanderbilt Business, Andy helped me recruit speakers (Hank Schacht CEO of Cummins Engine and later Lucent Technologies and James Baker, CEO of Arvin Industries).  When I applied to the SKL Leadership series, Andy was my sponsor.  When I later became Chairman of JA of Central Indiana and won a national bronze leadership award, Andy was there encouraging and supporting me at each step along the way.  Andy supported my selection as Forty Under 40 by the IBJ.   As we grew our business and NWS, I became CFO to restructure our financing amid a torrid pace of acquisitions and growth.  Andy was always around.

I reflect back now on the impact he had on my career and life. The advice he gave me at the first lunch and the later encouragement and support, although infrequent, came at critical moments in time that helped me make better decisions and ultimately become the person I am today.  For all of you who take the time out of your busy schedules to counsel an up and comer from your business or community, I say thank you. Know that a lunch with a bit of coaching and encouragement can make all the difference in someone’s life. Don’t ever think of it as a waste of time or unnecessary. Indeed, it may well be one of the greatest responsibilities we all have as leaders in our respective worlds.

Thank you, Andy. I will never forget you and your legacy continues.

Smoke Wallin Vanderbilt Address – 2008

I came across this video of my address at Vanderbilt back in 2008.  I had tremendous feedback from this from those in the audience.  I thought I’d share…

 Vanderbilt University – Alumni Weekend 2008  J. Smoke Wallin the 1998 Distinguished Alumnus and incoming President of the Vanderbilt Owen Alumni Board introduced by Jim Bradford, Dean of the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management.  Smoke addresses students, faculty, staff and prospective students on what matters in life, business and friendship.  He reflects on some difficult experiences.

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