It’s been several months now. I thought after Mom’s passing (December 2008) that I’d be used to it. But autumn was always Dad’s season: Oregon and OSU football games on the TV with Jennifer’s parmesan-and-yeast popcorn … real fires in our fireplace with wood from the St. Paul’s Woodcutters Guild … gleeful family gatherings with his favorite family-recipe foods at Thanksgiving and Christ-mas … ushering the Advent Sundays at church with pockets full of contraband lollipops for the kids … making sure there were enough donations to keep the Jason Lee Food Bank going strong. And of course, in those years when there was snow, running his trusty ‘Turbo-Iron’ sled down the legendary Superior-Street slope on Fairmount Hill (and in later years giving the reins to neighbor kids).
Chuck, Sarah and I are blessed that Sam Skillern, Jr., was our Dad. Since his home-going in May, many folks have shared with us that Salem is blessed because Dad and Mom chose to live here starting in 1960. A native of Lewiston, Idaho, and a graduate of the University of Oregon, Dad came to Salem to learn the life-insurance business from my grandfather Charles Croley. Dad had a long and successful career, and to this day I bump into folks who say “I took certification classes from your Dad, he was the best,” or “without your Dad I would not have been successful in insurance.”
So it was with some surprise that I ran across a batch of letters in Dad’s filing cabinet that were not so complimentary. They were from supervisors at the home office who flew out from Omaha to do Dad’s annual review. “Sam, you’re selling lots of policies but you’re not following the formula for making cold calls.” “Sam, you’re in the Top 10 again this year but you’re spending too much time helping your families with their death claims and not enough time prospecting new clients.” “Sam, your word-of-mouth referrals are outstanding but you’re not meeting your monthly quota of direct-mail contacts.” “Sam, spend less time clashing with our claims department and more time selling.” “Sam, you genuinely care about people – sometimes to a fault.”
These letters were written as reprimand. What I saw was commendation. Despite the incredible social pressures of the ‘60s and ‘70s “success culture” and the need to support our family, Dad put relationships ahead of ambition. He was other-oriented rather than self-oriented. He risked reputation and reward with the home office to ensure that his clients got what they were promised. He genuinely cared about people. How can that be a fault?
Dad loved the Lord. He loved his family. He loved church. He loved people. He laughed often.
May Dad continue to inspire his family and his friends for years to come. In the book Halftime, Bob Buford writes about the difference between a life-of-success and a life-of-significance. Success isn’t bad, but can leave us wanting. Significance fulfills, and lives on. Dad never read Buford’s book, but he certainly comprehended the concept. Lived it. Gave it as a gift to all of us. Merry Christmas!