It’s not often that I’ll be bought to tears while working. Yesterday morning, while pulling together material for an upcoming workshop on motivation, I was reminded of a getaway my wife Shannon and I had taken and an extraordinary person we met during the trip.
Every so often, Shannon and I will make time for a sanity check in the form of a weekend escape from our three teens. In 2017, we headed to The Homestead, a magnificent grand dame resort in Hot Springs, Virginia. Neither of us had been there before.
…he had worked his way up from the horse stables to eventually become maître d’ of the resort’s main restaurant.
Meeting Woody Pettus
On the first morning of our long weekend, we were seated for breakfast by a warm, magnanimous man named Woody Pettus. Have you ever met someone that you could instantly tell was someone special? Woody was that person. He welcomed us like we were relatives he had been missing for years. Our conversation was strangely meaningful given how brief it was.
As we left the restaurant, I noticed a sign on the wall commending Woody for 55 years of service. It explained that five generations of his family had also worked at the resort, and he had worked his way up from the horse stables to eventually become maître d’ of the resort’s main restaurant.
The next day, Woody greeted us even more warmly, wanting to know what our plans for the day were, and how we had spent our previous day. As he made the rounds to each table, I watched as some guests, clearly long-time resort guests, got up from their tables and hugged Woody.
What is it that motivates someone to come to the same place of work everyday for over 50 years with the same enthusiasm?
Fifty Years of Motivation
Race is a complicated subject in the United States, especially in the South, even more especially in Virginia. Hot Springs is a few hours down the road from Richmond, the home of the capital of the confederacy. Seeing aging white men hug this older black gentleman was at once surprising and beautiful.
After breakfast, I asked Woody if I could speak to him privately for a moment. I said, “Woody, you seem to love your job as much as any person I’ve ever met. One of the areas that my business focuses on is motivation. What is it that motivates someone to come to the same place of work everyday for over 50 years with the same enthusiasm?” He smiled and said, “Human beings.”
He went on to explain that he enjoys learning about other people’s lives, and loves hearing people’s stories. Over the years, he explained, he had watched guests raise children, celebrate marriages, and take vacations together, and many of them had become true friends. He looked forward to their visits. After our chat, I asked Woody if he would take a picture with me, and that I was going to include him and the wisdom he had just shared in future workshops on motivation.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Love and Light
So, why was I crying at my desk yesterday? As I was updating slides for the motivation workshop, I came across the picture of Woody and me. I did a quick Google search and discovered that he had died in 2018, about a year after retiring. In his obituary, it was noted that resort guests would plan their trips around whether or not Woody would be working. Over 100 colleagues and long-time guests attended a reception at the resort after his death, in a new resort restaurant named in his honor: Woody’s.
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I am reminded of a quote that seems to epitomize what Woody was all about. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
I think the world could use more light and love. The kind that Woody gave.