I found time today to go on your website and read your wonderful account of growing up in Appalachia . I enjoyed learning even more about your background. You and I are very, very different in so many ways while having much in common. We both grew up poor financially but rich in a strong German (for me) work ethic and desire to learn. I am clearly what many would label a liberal and a greenie if that means that I have a huge concern about being good stewards of our planet and learning to live gently on the earth. I have always admired the indigenous American Indian concept of asking how our actions will impact seven generations following us. And I am a Democrat and advocate of servant leadership. But what I learned during the time I supported you and your team was that we have far more in common than we have differences. I learned to respect you as a leader, friend, father and citizen. I learned how you were willing to risk your life as a leader to create and protect good jobs with fair pay. And I learned how committed you were to the safety of your Employees. I remember how you worked closely with the vendors who made heavy mining equipment and your team designed features to enhance the safety of workers. For example, you took the concept of safety netting used to protect drivers in NASCAR and added this to the small open rail cars which transport miners underground to protect them from possible rock erosion during trips underground. And you worked closely with Fletcher, the maker of roof bolters to design and enhance the safety of workers using this equipment by adding an extra protective shield projecting ahead of the equipment to protect from loose rock falling from overhead. I also remember your team working with Joy Manufacturers to enhance safety and efficiency of the long-wall equipment. There was a constant focus on ways to learn from mistakes and prevent accidents, keeping workers safe. I remember before I went down underground the very thorough training sessions to insure that I knew what to do in the event of a problem to protect myself and those around me.
I remember hearing you speak to your Employees. You spoke with a passion, wisdom and inspiration that really touched me. And perhaps you remember that I made what was for me a large political contribution to your candidate because I listened carefully to how you described the situation and, in this case, I stood with you.
My heart grieved with you and all those families at the time of the tragic explosion. And I knew that whatever else may have happened that the accident could not be due to corporate leaders putting profit ahead of safety. Not on your watch. I also learned about how complex the mining industry is and how many factors come into play. I stand with you and your team, whatever happens. I know in my heart that first and foremost, you have always done what you thought to be in the best interest of your Employees, the community and the shareholders.
I remember marveling at how you would creatively address very complex problems. When the railroad was trying to squeeze you on price how you came up with a ‘third right answer’. Again and again you would innovate and constantly make improvements on the system. I remember Pete’s innovation in how to build high curbs where the coal turned a corner on conveyer belts to increase the percentage of coal that stayed on the belt. And that you invested in these long belts to move the coal because you didn’t want heavy coal trucks on roads with school buses.
I will always be grateful for my trips down into the mines so I could appreciate the conditions the workers faced. I remember how in awe I was in seeing the long wall equipment that literally carved out a huge vein of coal the length of three football fields, and how difficult it was to keep it mechanically tuned to operate safely.
I was touched by your priority as a parent, no matter where you were to call home each evening and check in on your son, John, and daughter, Jennifer, to help them with homework. And having John share a bedroom so you would have time to talk. I’ll be looking for John as a NASCAR driver. Larry enjoys NASCAR and will be looking for his name so I can track his career.
I do strongly encourage you to write your book. Even though we see things differently on many topics, I believe your story is a very important one, not just about you and your life growing up in coal mining. It is primarily a story of a single mother who raised her son with a strong work ethic and life ethic. You have been so devoted to the culture around you that is limited to that area and needs work and an honest way to make a living. You bring a very bright mind to the dialogue on how we can create the strongest government, political and business leadership to provide a country that encourages its citizens to lead productive lives and contribute to the wellbeing of those around them and a strong country.
You are gifted as an accountant and CFO. My world is different and perhaps balancing in some ways. Texas has the lowest ranked educational system of the 50 states yet we have the highest percentage of our citizens incarcerated in prisons. I see this as investing reactively as a result of having so many of our citizens living without good educations and no hope. Drugs, crime and violence go up when people lack hope. I worked in the prison system to demonstrate ways to reduce recidivism only to learn that the prison system’s budget is linked to head count so they don’t want to lower head count. This broke my heart and taught me to look at the bigger picture when trying to come up with creative, successful solutions.
I have worked hard as an educator to encourage good schools. There is one here in Dallas, founded by one of my students. They work primarily with kids coming from homes below the poverty level. 100% of those who attend these schools (now 3) for three years or more, go on to be honor students and 87% earn scholarships to prestigious colleges and universities. They work with the parents to help the families have skills in money management, conflict resolution, a good work ethic and encouraging a strong education. The parents all donate a generous number of hours to the school even though many can’t pay tuition. But they are deeply involved. You already guessed that I push to encourage more money invested in these kinds of schools who teach personal values and build strong self-esteem and self-discipline. When the children graduate from elementary school, alumni return to cheer for them. These are minority students who are now doctors, lawyers, teachers, actors, scientists; highly successful professionals. They are role models of unprecedented success. I’d rather invest in preventing social problems and I sense you would too. I remember being very impressed to learn that you had a dream of going back to teach youngsters math when you retired. And I know you would make a remarkable teacher because you are so creative, disciplined, goal oriented, humble and inspiring.
We need our best and strongest differences to improve our strategies. And I will stand with you anytime, anywhere. We may not fully agree but I always want to hear your point to the very end. As I listen I have always learned perspectives that brought new light and new possibilities. And you have always listened respectfully to me, which tells me that you are open to the possibility that there may be other options that neither of us have yet seen.
Sorry this is so long. What I really want is to send my love and support at a time when you may be facing difficult legal challenges. I don’t know but what I do know is that I have unconditional love and trust for you. And I also know that true friends sometimes become few when we face difficult situations. My prayers and belief in you are there with you. And I will continue to send encouragement around the writing of your story. It is an important part of the history of that special part of America. You owe it to your grandchildren and the families of all miners to do your best to tell your story so others can remember, learn and grow from it.
You stand tall in my eyes and my heart. I also know you have genius gifts in so many areas, non the least of which is your own style of leadership and job creation.
Warm regards and unconditional love from an admiring friend,