Feb 15, 2015

Remembering Dick Roberts...

The book that started it all...

About a year ago, I was involved in interviewing a young man for a position that my employer had available.  One of my co-workers was interviewing him at the same time.  Near the end of the interview, my colleague made a couple of recommendations to the young fellow whom we were interviewing (and ultimately hired).  One of these suggestions was that the fellow read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.  That suggestions brought a flood of memories to me about my very personal experience with the Dale Carnegie program in the mid-1960s.

I was sent to Norman, Oklahoma, in August of 1965 to teach in the Naval ROTC program.  One day in the following February, I saw an ad in the Norman Transcript for a free demonstration of the Dale Carnegie course in Effective Communications and Human Relations.  I decided to attend, as I was interested in doing anything I could to help me become a better instructor for the Navy.  I called the number in the ad and signed up for the free meeting which was to be held on a Sunday afternoon at the local Holiday Inn.

I arrived a few minutes early and was greeted by a most gregarious individual, short, heavy-set, and an absolute bundle of enthusiasm.  "Hi, I'm Dick Roberts. I'm going to predict that today's presentation will change your life!"  He also exuded self-confidence without being the slightest bit arrogant.  This was my introduction to Joseph Richard "Dick" Roberts, whom I would eventually learn owned the Dale Carnegie franchise for all 58 counties of the state of Oklahoma.  He also was to become my friend.  Dick asked a few questions about my background and how I came to be interested in the class and then pointed out some refreshments that had been provided.

Gradually, the room filled up until there were perhaps 75 people present.  After we were seated, Dick introduced himself and then stunned us by going around the room and introducing everyone by name and sharing a fact or two about each of us.  "This is Bob Mead, currently a Lieutenant in the Navy.  He's recently been sent here to teach naval engineering in the NROTC unit.  And Bob is originally from Schenectady, New York."  Wow!  We realized that as Dick was introducing himself to each of us and asking about our interest in the class, he was also memorizing our names and the facts we had shared with him.  And he remembered these things and associated them with our faces!  I think everyone there was impressed.

Dick went on to describe the course, its contents and format.  He spoke of the benefits and long term life-changing potential of the classes.  And I signed up to take the next class, which was to begin in mid-March.

I arrived on the night of the first session, in which we were asked to introduce ouselves and briefly explain why we had decided to take the class.  There was a Catholic nun who had been selected to head up her convent.  There was a football coach who had coached under Bear Bryant and had recently been hired by Oklahoma Head Coach Gomer Jones.  A local veterinarian had signed up based on the recommendation of his brother.  The class was diverse to say the least, and each of us had our own unique reasons for signing up.

Over the next several weeks, we told stories, explained processes, or made impromptu speeches, a new assignment every week.  But we also learned memory techniques and other useful skills, following many of the writings of Dale Carnegie.  As we neared the end of our course, disaster struck for me -- I received orders to report to UCLA for a summer teaching assignment.  I was heartbroken.  I had come to love my classmates and the course itself, and our teacher, Dick Roberts.  I wanted to finish with my class.  I called Dick and told him the bad news.

Dick didn't even hesitate.  "When you get back, we'll put you in a different class.  And if you want to start back at the beginning, that's just fine.  Nobody should miss out on the whole experience."  And there was never the remotest suggestion that this would cost anything.  I had paid my tuition, and that was that.

I went to California, and when I returned at the end of Summer, I did enroll in session 1 of a new class.  I completed that one with my fellow class members.  Dick asked me if I'd be willing to be a "Graduate Assistant" to assist in other classes.  I eagerly accepted and assisted with three or four classes in the Oklahoma City area.  Even though I eventually had to give that role up due to time constraints, Dick Roberts and I stayed in touch for several years.

As I got to know Dick personally, I recognized that he was a very special individual.  He was a devoted family man.  He and his wife, Mary, had ten children and 2 foster children.  They had adopted two special needs kids who suffered from cerebral palsy.  He used to joke that his house had so many bedrooms, it fel like a dormitory.  He would sometimes introduce himself as "Dick Roberts, the father of twelve beautiful kids.  You know I'm either a conscientious Catholic or a careless Protestant!"

The Dale Carnegie course had a profound impact on my life.  I still, some fifty years later, employ many of the principles I learned.  I sometimes reflect on my classmates and wonder what ever became of them.  I hear the echo of Dick Roberts in his cheerleader role, "Act enthusiastic and you'll be enthusiastic!"

Dick passed away in 2007.  A portion of his obituary notice speaks volumes about this caring, loving, wonderful man: "He is survived by his wife, 10 children and 2 foster children: Paul and Rosa Roberts, Martha and Ken Vass, Rick and Cathy Roberts, Anna Marie Forbes, Teresa and Bill Holt, Rob and Linda Roberts, Russ Roberts, Michael Roberts, Chuck Roberts, Greg and LaDeana Roberts, Curtis Faust (foster son), Corinne and Bill Blankenship (foster daughter and spouse) and Mary Leal Roberts. He cherished his 22 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Memorial contributions can be made to United Cerebral Palsy of Oklahoma, 10400 Greenbriar Place., Suite 101, Oklahoma City, OK 73159"

Rest in Peace, my friend.

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