Monday, April 13, 2015

Chance Meeting, Lifetime Impact: Tribute to Dr. Levi Watkins

Have you ever had the experience of meeting someone that seemed so normal and routine at the time only to realize it had a profound impact on your life later?

That was me this past Saturday as I leisurely scrolled through my Facebook feed to learn that someone really special was no longer walking among us. Immediately, upon reading the news of the passing of cardiology pioneer Dr. Levi Watkins in Baltimore last Friday, I was struck with a deep sense of loss. It almost felt like my mind was playing tricks on me. Geez. I'd only met him one time. And last Fall had made a new friend who worked near him at Johns Hopkins Hopsital who had passed a message to him for me. It is a very volatile time in my life, I started to say in my mind as I tried to calm myself in the moment. But reading the very personal and poignant tribute to Dr. Watkins from his brother, Daniel Watkins really made the tears flow.

I'd had a chance meeting with greatness.

I'd shared wine with one of the finest doctors who ever lived.

I was encouraged to BE ME and keep moving forward with BOLDNESS by a living legend.

And I had no idea.

I have never forgotten that late Spring afternoon meeting at the Chesapeake Bay Wine Company in 2007. I was in the area to meet a friend of Dr. Watkins, who was a client partner of the company I worked for at the time. This partner was one of our company's toughest customers and if I'm honest, most every one in our home office was deathly afraid of him. He was gruff. He was flippant. He was witty and cold. And a trip to DC/Maryland to see him was always dreaded, until that day.

I was not afraid at all.  I went to the meeting prepared. He immediately informed me that the allotted time he agreed to before I arrived was no longer possible. In his stiff, Southern drawl, he encouraged me to "brang my best, in much less (time)."

I did. I presented data and offered my humble opinion on what they could do better to up their marketing game. He challenged me hard and I stood firm. Before I knew it, I actually did get the full amount of time with him as he previously agreed. He even offered to take me to lunch and asked if I'd ever had Maryland Crab Chowder. "My favorite dish", I replied and he proceeded to treat me to one of the best bowls of chowder I've ever had a dive location near Beltsville, MD. As we entered his huge truck, I asked him where he's from because he certainly doesn't sound like he's from Maryland.

"Alabama", he replies proudly and I finally have a personal connection to Stan. "My dad is from Alabama", I offer to which he quickly responds, "knew you had 'Bama blood in you." From that moment on, our conversation changed and was rich. We talked Alabama and business, we talked about our families and our dreams.

Back at his office (now I'm in OVERTIME), he invites me on his boat that evening proceeds to write me handwritten directions to Chesapeake Bay. He adds, almost as an after thought, that he has someone he wants me to meet. "Another Alabama great", he said. I agreed.

Dr. Watkins came into the Chesapeake Wine Company right on time to meet Stan and I and Stan introduced me. I don't remember his exact introduction but it was peppered with compliments about me, my courage and expertise at what I do. Dr. Watkins congratulated me, confirming that Stan is never generous with praise. Our 45 mins were lively and full of talk about Alabama, courage and other things I scarcely remember but I do remember what Dr. Watkins said when we stood to part. He specifically said he enjoyed meeting "young folk" like me, "self assured and confidently taking on the world." His last words to me were, "don't ever change - no matter how hard it gets or who you face, the world needs you just the way you are".

We hugged and I went on my boat ride with Stan. Over the years, since that meeting, I've often thought about that conversation and it rang in my head in late 2011 as I boldly left my corporate job to do Relationships Matter Now full-time.

Saturday when I heard Dr. Watkins had died and began to read about the outspoken civil rights and medical genius he truly was, it occurred to me that our chance conversation was one of the first mustard seeds of my entrepreneurial journey.  I was pushed to my life's work by someone who was doing his. I was acknowledged and validated as a great mind in my field before I knew it myself by someone accustomed to greatness and achievement.

Thank you Dr. Levi Watkins for your amazing life. And especially thank you for seeing more in me than I even saw in myself that day.

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