A decade ago, I was employed with a property management company out of New Orleans, Louisiana, Fountainbleau Management. The owner, Roland and I had mutual respect for each other, but we also had a very different perspective of management and people in general. I was his Director of Property Operations and Managers, and in that role, I was constantly having to hire, supervise, evaluate and sometimes terminate employees.
Roland was an extremely intelligent, kind and compassionate person. During the fourteen years I worked for him, I observed him go the extra mile for many people that were in his Fountainbleau “family”. He was genuinely concerned with the welfare of his employees. Most of the benefactors of Roland’s kindness were loyal, hard-working employees; however, some did occasionally seek to take advantage of him.
I personally witnessed several people whom Roland had taken under his wing, fall into old habits that were detrimental to the business. It bewildered me how Roland could give them chance after chance to get back on their feet and get back to work. Not many of those second or third chancers ever did make it. I would shake my head and wonder if my boss would ever learn.
Today at mass I heard the same Gospel, Mark 1:14-20, that I heard roughly about ten years ago. Those many years ago, upon hearing the words of Jesus, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men”, I thought about Roland. I considered myself to be a good and faithful Catholic, yet I was so ready to write people off as soon as they stumbled. I was looking at people as good or bad based on their backgrounds and achievements in life. I was looking for the unblemished and unfallen in a blemished and fallen world. Roland on the other hand was seeking those whose talents were there, but through hard times or a less than perfect background, had never been given a chance. He was being a fisher of men.
Humility sank into my heart as I begin to understand the man and his mission. That night, I emailed Roland a note describing my epiphany that day and thanking him for teaching me to look beyond a person’s worth on paper. He taught me to look at a person’s heart.
I received a reply the next day. Roland told me he read the email and was at a loss for words. It seemed I had taken him completely by surprise. He was touched and thanked me.
A few years later I was leaving Fountainbleau for a new adventure and Roland invited me to lunch. I gathered we would talk about the fourteen years of buying and renovating properties and all the people we had gotten to know. Once we sat down, it became apparent to me that he wanted to talk about Jesus. He told me that he understood Jesus lived and was a real person; however, he had his doubts that Jesus was God. This time, I was the one surprised! I did tell him that I wholeheartedly knew and believed that Jesus was not just a mere man. Roland had a lawyer’s background; he needed proof. I knew I was never going to convince him in the hour we sat down for lunch, and I did not want to get into a heated debate on my last day.
The following week, I sent Roland a thank you card for all the kindness shown to me over the years. Included with the card was a favorite book of mine, Life of Christ, by Fulton J. Sheen. I do not know if he read it. I hope he did.
A little over a year ago, Roland was killed in a hunting accident. I know he has now met Jesus Christ. As I heard the gospel today and the words of Jesus, “and I will make you fisher of men”, I thought about my friend and said a prayer for him. I thanked him for his wisdom and guidance and I hope I am living my life looking for what is in people’s hearts just as he did.
Rest in peace my friend.