My dad is one of my heroes. This Father’s Day I want to honor him by explaining to a limited extend what he’s contributed to my being the man and father I am today.
Here’s his story:
Dad was born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1937, the son of a salesman for what was the American Chicle Company. One of his earliest memories was from when he was a little guy (probably only two or three years old). The family lived on the third floor at the time and dad would often play in or near the window when he couldn’t be outside. The window washers had come by but failed to put the screen back tightly. When dad climbed up to play, he fell out the window. His grandmother (called “Nan”) jumped out the same window after him and as Dad recalls, somehow she seemed to get to the ground before him or at nearly the same time in order to try to protect him from the fall. Fortunately he fell into a clump of bushes below the window and wasn’t harmed.
In 1941 when he was about four, the family moved to Dallas, Texas where my grandfather was promoted from salesman to District Manager. At that time, as the US entered World War 2, my grandfather volunteered for and was inducted into the Navy and attended Officers Candidate School. Around that same time, my dad’s grandmother back in Salt Lake City was going blind. As a result, the Navy sent my grandmother, dad and uncle back to Salt Lake to be with her. The Navy paid for the travel and sent them on a troop train; that was my dad’s first exposure to the military, riding the train with the troops who were making their way to the war. Shortly after arrival, it was clear Nan was completely blind. At that time, my grandfather was the head of household and the sole provider for the family. as a result, the Navy exempted him from service and the family (including Nan) moved back to Dallas.
When dad was first in grade school, his older brother Neil was supposed to walk him home. Neil just walked home alone and left dad at the school. Dad found his way home alone, even though he doesn’t remember how he found the house. Neil took a beating.
As a boy and young man, dad always had chores to do. One particular chore that still sticks vividly in his mind was mowing the grass. My dad and uncle were both young, dad wasn’t tall enough to reach the lawn mower’s handle, but my uncle was. As a result, my uncle Neil was allowed to push the mower. There was also a rope tied to the mower that my dad used to walk in front of the mower, pulling it along like a plow horse. When the grass didn’t need mowing, there were always other chores to do: painting the house, mending a fence, etc. It was clear to my dad (as unenjoyable as it was when he was a child) that he was expected to put the family first and that everyone in the family was expected to contribute for the greater good.
His first real job was as a paper boy in Dallas when he was 9 years old. As was normal for the day, he would go door-to-door to collect directly from the customers once a month. From that money, he would pay for the newspapers, with his profit coming from any additional money or tips collected. From what profit he made, my grandmother allowed him to keep $5 a month; the rest went into the house fund to cover other family needs.
The family moved from Dallas to Cleveland, Ohio in 1951 where my grandfather was promoted again, now to Division Manager. This was early in the Korean War and dad has vivid memories of lots of radio chatter about our military and the war. Cleveland became home for the rest of his youth and it was there that he completed 8th through 12th grades.
When he was 13 years old he took an all-summer job washing dishes at the Centerville YMCA Camp in Ohio. His first summer there he was still short enough that he had to stand on two Coke-a-Cola crates to be tall enough to wash the dishes. His work ethic impressed his manager there and as a result, he was able to work other jobs too, including in the craft shop and eventually as a life guard, all under the oversight of the same manager. His experiences at camp were good ones, it earned him some money, and it got him out of a full summer of chores at home. He continued working for the next five summers, through graduation from High School.
As was typical of the time, since he didn’t have a car he hitchhiked to get to and from camp, even to return home in the middle of the summer when he had a few days off. His last summer there, the summer after he graduated from HS, his brother Neil had joined the AF and dad wanted to have his brother’s Buick. Grandpa wouldn’t give it to him and instead said he could have it if he bought it. Dad paid $100 and bought his first car. What was noteworthy about that final year Dad had accelerated through HS and completed school in February. As a result, he worked for my grandfather from February until the summer. That summer before college started, probably to avoid more chores around the house for no pay, he went back to the YMCA camp.
He graduated from John Marshall High School, having lettered in track all four years, and applied to attend Miami University of Ohio. Miami was co-ed university and known for its business school. It was a feeder school for Harvard’s Business School, and as such was the only state school in Ohio that required prospective students to take entrance exams. Dad was accepted and also decided to enroll in ROTC.
As a freshman, he pledged for ΣAE and was accepted into the fraternity. That year though, he and his group couldn’t be inducted because the fraternity was in trouble and on probation with the National Chapter. Dad and about 30 other classmates decided to wait the probationary period out and join when they could. (Other students apparently didn’t wait and went on to other fraternities.)
At that same time, his brother was studying to get into medical school and due to his circumstances, needed to pursue a masters degree first to prove himself. As a result, most of the available money in the family went to pay for his college bills rather than my dad’s. My grandfather paid for dad’s first year, but that was it. Dad wanted to continue college and ended up working four jobs to pay his room, board and tuition: as a waiter in one of the women’s dorms, as a burger cook and waiter at the fraternity house, and as a salesman at a local clothing store. He finally worked his way through to graduation in June 1959, received a business degree and a commission in the US Air Force. His dad congratulated him for working his way through college and asked him what he wanted. Dad said he wanted a car, preferably a convertible. Grandpa asked him if he’s like one of those new Impala convertibles, dad said yes. Grandpa picked the car up and dad thanked him for such a nice gift. Grandpa then told him it might not be such a good deal and to look in the glovebox. In the glove box, dad found the payment book for the car. It wasn’t intended, but dad had just bought his second car, thinking it was a graduation gift.
As I mentioned, dad was in ROTC all four years of college. He wanted to join the AF to be a pilot, figuring he could serve his country for several years, then shift into the commercial aviation world as an airline pilot. He took the exam to see if he qualified to compete for a pilot training slot and earned his private pilot’s license, at the time a requirement to gain a pilot training slot with the AF. He scored well and with a private pilot’s license in hand was selected to attend pilot training after commissioning.
In December 1959 he reported to Lackland AFB for what was called officer preflight training. After successfully completing preflight, he continued to Malden AB (Malden, MO) for primary flight training where he flew the T-28 and was in the last class to fly this reciprocating engine aircraft for primary (pictured above), then at Laredo AFB, TX where he flew the T-33 to complete pilot training in a jet aircraft (pictured below). After graduation and with survival and passing through the Technical Training Unit, he began flying C-133’s as an airlift pilot. Throughout his career he flew C-130s, C-141s and C-5s as well as other assorted aircraft.
During the early part of his career, he was also selected along with 125 pilots from across the AF to screen for the astronaut program. He passed the grueling 9 day physical, but ultimately wasn’t selected to complete the training since he didn’t have an engineering degree. His name was kept on the books as eligible, but he was never called upon to enter the program.
He served in combat in Viet Nam, commanded at the squadron, group, wing and twice at the air division level, and also served as the Technical Training Center Commander at Keesler AFB, where he retired in 1991. One of the Air Divisions he commanded, the 76th Military Airlift Division at Andrews AFB, MD, included three subordinate wings, one of which was the 89th Military Airlift Wing responsible for presidential and congressional airlift, including the US’s most famous jet: Air Force 1.
His original plan to move to the airlines after a few short years flying for the military was overcome by his love for military aviation and those few short years became a 32 year career. Along the way, while working a full-time career in the Air Force, he also earned an MBA on his own time. He retired from active duty as a major general and transitioned to civilian life.
Shortly after retirement, he was hired to tech MBA studies at William Carey College in Hattiesburg, MS. Around that same time he also ran for Congress against the incumbent for the 5th Congressional District in Mississippi. The incumbent won but the visibility and desire to continue in public service was noted. As a result the State of Mississippi asked him to become the first executive director of the newly formed Mississippi Gaming Commission in September 1993--the year the State Senate voted to legalize and regulate casino-style gaming in the state. He accepted and ran the State’s gaming compliance arm for almost six years until sometime in 1998.
Shortly afterwards, he was offered the position of President and CEO of a financially struggling Signature Works (the largest company in the world employing visually impaired workers). He served with them for two years, moved the company back into the black, then handed a healthy company to new leadership. Never content to sit still, he then started a company with two other men to store cars for military members stationed overseas or deployed. That same year he also started his own company, PDH Associates, to assist individuals and companies who desire to enter into the gaming industry. Since then he’s taken a number of corporate governance positions within the gaming industry, including a position on the Board of Directors for the Riviera in 2001, and as the President and CEO of Pearl River Resorts, working directly for the Meko (Chief) of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. He still lives in Mississippi today and actively continues with his own company, as well as with Pearl River Resorts and the Riviera.
Dad, I want you and others to know what you taught me: the things I can say you’re responsible for teaching me and that have made me the man, and the father that I am.
- Serving others and your country is more important than serving yourself
- Work hard and provide for your family
- Be a team player but don’t expect others to carry your load
- Be generous with what you have and help others when you can
- Education is important--get as much as you can
- Discipline will get you through most everything in life
- Priorities matter--commit to and finish what you start
- Have a sense of humor--don’t lose it and don’t forget to laugh
- Don’t forget where you came from--it matters because it makes you who you are
There are so many more things I could say, but these are the big ones. You didn’t just tell me these things, you taught me through your words and deeds across my entire life. You also commissioned me as a second lieutenant in the US Air Force, officiated all of my promotions, greeted me when I returned from my first combat deployment, and my son is named after you. Thank you for being my dad and my hero. If I’m ever even half the man that you are, I can count my life a success. Happy Father’s Day, dad. It’s truly great to be your son, and as always,
It’s great to be a dad!