Motivated by mentors

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 28, 2007

Part one of a two-part series

Editor’s note: Henry Adams once wrote, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

The same could also be said of mentors.

Sometimes, mentors are easy to identify. They’re actively influencing and affecting lives and yes, maybe eternity. They’re teachers, parents, scout leaders, guidance counselors, coaches.

Sometimes, people mentor without ever knowing that they’ve done so, by saying the right thing at just the right time to motivate and inspire someone.

Here are some stories about mentoring that might inspire and motivate you to get involved in changing the life of a young person.

I grew up in Oxford, North Carolina, with both my parents and a younger sister. When I was about 10 years old, I remember meeting Phil, who was a good friend of our family. Since my dad didn’t like to go fishing, Phil would take me.

We had a great time. He would also come over for dinner. Since he was a bachelor, my mom wanted to make sure he had some home-cooked meals. As I grew older, Phil and I remained good friends. For me, it was nice to have someone else to bounce ideas off, especially during my teenage years. Even after I moved away, got married and had children of my own, Phil and I never lost contact with each other. Though he died some time ago (he never got married and never had children), Phil was able to meet my youngest son, Philip, whom my wife and I had chosen to name after him.

— George Simons


I grew up in Mobile, Alabama, during segregation. Though I didn’t really have a specific mentor, I was blessed to have both my mom and dad raising me. We were a close-knit family and my older brother had a positive influence on me. In addition, our home was located in a cul-de-sac so the neighbors also watched over us. I remember some of my older brother’s friends, who lived in our neighborhood, serving as positive role models. As a matter of fact, our families we still keep in touch to this day and get together as often as we can.

— Eldridge Williams

community services coordinator, Livingstone College

The year 1999 proved to be a very memorable, for this is the year that I met a lady who had a great impact on my life. I had admired her for many years, all the while enjoying a collection of books and tapes produced by her.

As a world-renowned storyteller, Jackie Torrence was a special person. She had faith in me when I sometimes lacked it in myself. I can still hear her saying “Oh you can do it!”

And I did.

One of the most touching times with Jackie came when a man she was aquainted with offered to trade top quality oil paints for a quilt. Jackie gladly accepted with the confidence that I would profit .

The irony is, I knew absolutely nothing about oils yet she wanted me to have the best.

In a short time as God blessed me indeed the new medium was put to use.

A large canvas now holds an inspired painting appropriately titled “Jackie’s Dream.”

Yes, Jackie Torrence had many dreams for me.

I just wish she had not gone to sleep so soon.

— Paulette Rice Mangham


I never had a mentor; if anything, I had some really tough teachers at N.C. School of the Arts, and once I moved to New York City things didn’t get any better.

However, I do believe mentors have a great and powerful effect on young people. I don’t necessarily mentor my own students, but many of them feel a sense of responsibility towards me and want me to be proud of them and their decisions in life. It’s as though they feel accountable to someone other than their parents and school teachers. Often, parents ask me to speak with their children on issues they may be struggling with at home, and the children and teenagers are much more receptive to me. I’m sure I will experience the same relationship once I have a teenager running around the house.

If I had to sum it all up it would be in three words: Mentors offer their special young person a sense of accountability, responsibility and hope.

— Rebecca Massey Wiley

founder and co-artistic director, Piedmont Dance Conservatory and Piedmont Dance Theatre

One of the great regrets of my life is that no one ever emerged as a mentor for me, at least not as a child or young adult.

In some ways, Vladimir Volkoff, a French writer and dear friend who recently died, was a mentor to me as a writer much later in life.

But I was a kid who desperately needed someone to care about me, encourage me, and just generally take an interest in me.

None came along.

— Kurt Corriher

author and director for Center of International Studies, Catawba College

I was working at a part-time job at a convenience store in East Spencer when this boy came in. I saw him put a bag of potato chips in his coat pocket. He walked all the way around the store and came up to the counter to buy a piece of candy.

I asked him if he was going to pay for the potato chips in his pocket.

His eyes got as big as two half dollars. He knew he was busted. He pulled the chips out and laid them on the counter. I told him to get out and not come back. A couple of weeks later he came back and asked if he could come in the store. He told me he had money.

I told him he could if he helped me stock the cooler. So he did, and afterward, I gave him a few dollars for helping me. He was surprised.

“You earned this by working,” I told him. “You don’t have to steal.”

I wanted him to know that there was an alternative, that if he wanted something, he could earn the money.

After that, he’d come by and help me from time to time. He eventually went into the military and one day he visited my mother’s church.

He said, “I will never forget what you did.”

I sometimes think, if he’d gotten away with it, would he have gone in another direction?

The last time I talked to him he had his own business in Atlanta. He’s nice, clean-cut, well-mannered, with a good firm handshake — stuff you don’t see from a lot of young men these days.

It made me feel good that I had somehow inspired him or opened his eyes to a better alternative.

— Michael Neely

Salisbury Police Department

I’ve had five important mentors in my life — though I doubt most of them would think of themselves in that way.

They arrived at different times and did sometimes little but pivotal things to let me know that they saw something special in me, which in turn helped me see myself in a different way and take my work to a higher level.

Sometimes a very small thing like a series of encouraging conversations can completely change the course of another person’s life.

Over half of these mentors were my teachers in high school and college, and the other two came into my life through my interest in media and writing.

Now I have reached a stage where I have supportive friendships with peers that give me the support and information that I once received from mentors, and I have the opportunity to try to repay the debt I owe my mentors by giving the same types of encouragement and advice to my own students.

— Dr. Mary Dalton

assistant professor of communication, Wake Forest University

I do have a mentor who was very instrumental in my becoming a school counselor. That person is Pat McGuire, longtime counselor at Knox Middle School and Salisbury High School.

When I came to Knox in 1969 as a journalism/English teacher, Pat was one of the two counselors. The year 1969 was the first year of total integration in the Salisbury City Schools. I marveled at how Pat worked so hard to make those tough years successful by making all students feel that they were contributing to a common cause.

She continues to work privately with high school students — and she’s still the best.

— Margaret Basinger

retired guidance counselor, East Rowan High School