In 1972, I was 8 years old and there seemed to be something missing in my life. Most of my friends had a father who could participate in extracurricular activities. I watched as my friends and teammates would laugh with, get reassurance and have a good pat on the back from their fathers. I lost my father when I was only 3, and as I grew older, my mother realized I needed a male figure to help give me the kind of attention and encouragement that she, as a woman, could not provide. So in 1972 at a McDonald's in Decatur, I was introduced to the man who changed my life forever. He was a tall man with a demanding look and a deep voice. He was Bob Hope, my big brother in Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Bob was the public relations director for the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks . I was a sports nut and my mother was lucky enough to get me teamed up with a groundbreaker of the public relations sports industry. Bob soon took me under his wing, taking me to Braves games, Hawks games, Falcons games and even against his own best interest (because of the violent nature of hockey), a Flames game.
Over time, Bob became an icon in the Atlanta sports marketing industry while pulling off some of the greatest marketing stunts ever seen in history. I remember the Great Wallenda walking across Fulton County Stadium and the ostrich race with Ted Turner, the wet T-shirt contest before a Braves game (something I came to appreciate long after meeting Bob), and the greatest gate-entry gimmicks the sports world had ever seen. You might recall the Braves were horrible at the time; as the team's PR man, Bob had to get pretty creative to get fans to the game.
Bob's character, maturity, professionalism and mostly the desire to do it right always stuck with me, even as I struggled through my teen years. But I always remembered that Bob was watching me and that I could conquer any challenge.
I've learned Bob is still very successful and has established himself as one of the premier marketing geniuses. Bob would be proud to know that I also have successfully engineered a career that has made me a true success story. I graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a marketing degree, started at the bottom and worked my way up the career ladder until I have finally become one of the top sales executives for one of the largest legal information companies on the planet. More important, I completed my education as a family man with a wife and three children, two daughters and a son with whom I spend quality time, modeled by the male figure in my life --- my Big Brother.
January is Mentoring Month, an appropriate time for me to thank Bob for the time he took away from his own family, the time he took to inspire me to be the best, the time he took to entertain me and give me the direction I needed at the time I was most vulnerable.
There should be a Big Brothers Big Sisters Hall of Fame and Bob Hope should be inducted. Without the Big Brothers Big Sisters, who knows where my life may have ended up? I am so thankful that Bob was selfless enough to serve. He changed the odds for a little kid from Decatur. And for that, I'll always be thankful to him.
* Philip Lewis, a senior sales executive for a large legal information company, lives in Franklin, Tenn.