William E. Cameron
September 14, 2015
Begin interview. Today is September 14, 2015 and the time is 4:45 p.m. This is Ed Toole from the YMCA Retirement Fund interviewing Bill Cameron. Mr. Cameron, thank you for agreeing to share your story with me today. My first question for you is what's your first, very first YMCA experience?
I worked for the YMCA after school while I was in high school. I worked in the boys work department or the secretary of boys work at the Allentown YMCA. And that was my very first Y experience.
Tell us a little bit about that experience.
Oh, I loved it. I was a junior. I started as a junior and then in my senior year of high school and in the year in between I was a counselor at the resident camp and it was a very important job. The boys work department was on the fourth floor of the building. There was an elevator but the children were not allowed to use it. So these kids would come up four stories and give me the membership card and I would give them a locker key and then they would get down and do their swim or their gym and swim, and then they would go back up the four flights of stairs and they would get me back the locker key and I would give them back their membership card. I can't imagine more important to.
They were critical to the Movement but it was a lot of fun and the man I worked for turned out to have great influence on my life. It was just all together a good deal and the other kids were jealous of me for having that important job. I sound like I'm being sarcastic but I'm not. They really did envy me. Plus, I could do things like bring kids in for parties and that kind of stuff. My youth fellowship grew and so on.
So tell me about and then maybe the gentleman you just described who had an influence, tell me about the mentor or mentors you had in the Y and how that person or people did influence you in your career thinking or your personal thinking or whatever it may be?
Well, the man I was talking about is the Roy Schlessman and as I said, he was the boys work secretary as they called him in those days. He talked to me frequently about working for the YMCA as a career. I had little interest in that but I liked him a lot. Then you have to flash forward 20 years, I had done a whole bunch of stuff in between. I was active in civil rights movement, I've worked in community development organizations, I ended up having my own consulting practice and I was almost 40 years old, when by just a series of coincidences that’s too long a story to tell, I was offered the job as CEO at my local YMCA.
I thought this is crazy but I remembered Roy. We hadn’t had any conversation during all that time. I went to my local Y, North Penn Y and said, “Is there directory of YMCA professionals that I could look at?” Of course at that time there was a directory and they got it out and I looked up Roy Schlessman and sure enough he was the Vice President for Financial Development at the Valley of the Sun Phoenix, Arizona. So, I called him up and I said, “Roy, you’re not going to remember me” but and I did not get any further into the conversation.
He said, “Of course I remember you. We played catch up ...” Then I told him I had this opportunity and I said "I know little about today’s YMCA. I don’t know whether this is appropriate for me. You’re the only person I thought about that I could talk to." We discussed at some length what a CEO job is in the Y and so on. But at the end, he said to me, "Take the job," he said, “You’ll never get rich but you will be working with some of the best people in the world.” And so it was. I actually did get sort of rich. I mean if you stay in the Y long enough, you're certainly comfortably well off thanks to your shop. But I got to work with some of the best people in the world and I thought about that. I often have told this story quite a few times. I'm not sure whether Roy is still with us or not. We maintained some communication but he’s of course very old now, and the last time I knew, he was in a nursing house.
So I'm just not certain but he certainly had an influence on me twice. First, when I was a high school kid, and then secondly, when I was say on the cusp of turning 40 and considering whether I wanted to go to work for the Y. By the way, I thought I would stay with the Y a couple of years.
One of the reasons I got the offer was the Y was in a financial mess and I had been running a business for 10 years previous. They did want someone from the business world. Looking back it really is ironic in a number of ways. In any event, that was my foot in the door. I had no YMCA professional background. They were doing the regular search through the YMCA of USA, but they liked me and I was local and I did have the business background and I had, in long, long before, been a pastor in the same town. A number of people on the board knew me from that association. Anyhow, I went to work with the Y. I told my wife, "I’ll do this for a couple of years and try to get the situation straightened up, and then I'll go find real work." Well, I found real work okay but I stayed with the Y full-time 26 years and then continued to work part-time after that.
So from the time you were in high school doing the boys work position, and helping out and then fast forward that 20 something years later and you're the CEO. What had changed or not changed about thoughts about the Y or what the Y meant from when you were a high school kid to now, or a grown man taking over a Y in a leadership position?
My knowledge in the Y, excuse me, my knowledge of the Y was very superficial. My experience as a teenager there was a gym and swim kid and I told you about my job but I had very little exposure to the wider work of the YMCA and I didn’t get to see any, I mean, walking up those stairs, I did pass the executive offices where the general secretary worked and there was a USO in that Y and I often saw servicemen sitting at their desks writing letters home and that kind of stuff but I didn’t know much about the wider Y.
I got the idea through by the way Roy was also the camp director I mentioned in the summer. They basically closed down the city operation and went out through the camp and during that time, we did have conversations about whether what the Y means in the broader context but I'm sure that a lot of these went over my head. By the time I was offered the job at North Penn, all of my kids had learned to swim at the Y, all of my kids had been day campers at the Y, and a few of them had a bit of some of other programs so I have some knowledge of how–what they were involved, but I knew very little. I had to learn on the job big time.
I first had to learn what the job was, but then much more important, I had to learn what the organization was and that took a lot of doing. When I began to get it, it excited me very much. Still does, still does. I can still get very emotional when talking about the mission of the Y and working at the Y.
At the time that I was learning, I went around, I asked the MRC director who was Eugene Turner. I asked him to give me a list of who he thought were the top 10 CEOs in the area of Philadelphia. He did and I called them all up and asked if I could come and spend a day with them and I did.
By the way, I later found out that I was tilling new soil, although I would say people don’t actually do this. I've seen my branch executives for example, who’ve never been on another YMCA other than the one–but anyhow, and I went to 10 YMCAs. They all laid out the red carpet for me, they all spent the day with me, they all told me about what they did and why they did it and of course I got tours that they’re offering. So that was my quick learning, it was interviewing these 12 guys, they were all men, and getting some idea of what the organization was about.
Flashing way forward, the other piece that fell in for me and just pushed me way ahead was much later when I got to do some international travel and see what the Y does in poor countries with no money and nothing but just great spirit, great imagination, and great energy.
I came back walking tall and again it frustrates me to this day that no one knows this stuff. I mean, talk to people about YMCAs in other countries. “We did not know there were other YMCAs in other countries.” Despite the fact that international tries to get the word out, it is basically an untold story. I think most people still, the Y is the place down the street where they go to work out and where their kids learn to swim. I think that’s right here in 2015, that’s the Y for most Americans.
So during your time in the YMCA full-time, part-time and everything you’ve seen, what do you believe was potentially the most significant thing that happened within the Y Movement during your career?
Man, that’s really hard. I think that one of the most significant things and when we look back on these people and the history of this side of the Y, is a rediscovery of the deeper, broader purposes of the Y. Neil Nicoll wears his heart on his sleeve as far as the mission of the YMCA is concerned. And so much of the newer vocabulary, so much of the newer efforts like this very, very ingenious the summer catch up program for inner-city kids and a whole lot of other stuff. I think what I have seen is a rediscovery that the Y is not just a corporation, not just an institution, no it is those things and it does those pretty well most of the time, but I used to make a lot of speeches and whenever I talked gloriously about the YMCA, I always added in parenthesis (when we are at our best) because YMCAs really mess up a time or two and it’s not all glory and goodness.
But when we are the best, we’re really pretty terrific. And I think it didn’t necessary begin with Neil, but I think Neil, I know that Neil came with the specific intention of rediscovering and helping the Movement rediscover that it is a move. If you heard the word Movement much more and I think there was a part of it was kind of forced on us by the fact that we were no longer going to make our fortune in physical fitness exclusively.
Now suddenly, there was a huge amount of competition and unlike the earlier days, it was good competition. Originally it brought us up against local shop organizations that some of which just went in the business to get money and then went back out of business. Now of course, there are very reputable national chains and as well as a lot of a good local stuff. So the Y was not going to be able to have a lock on that particular business as lucrative as it might be. But I don’t think that was the main motive. I think the main motive was that we have been practicing, not intentionally, a kind of bait and switch.
We would get these young people, starry-eyed, idealistic come out of Springfield College and other places and tell them the story about George Williams, and tell them the story about this sort of glorious system of Y and tell them the story about all this stuff the Y has done to make a difference all over. We tell them the stuff about how adaptable the YMCA has been, the vehicle to meet the demand like and influx of immigrants for example. And so we’re kind of excited about the mission and then they actually sign up and come to work for us and we say, “Well, there’s where you sit and these are the papers you fill up and these are the papers you'll fill out and these are the kids you'll work with.” But all that stuff about the wider mission and the wider purposes, the wider intentions of the YMCA, they don’t hear it anymore.
They got hooked and I think that’s the reason why to this day, we lose some awfully good people fairly early on because they came in under one set of expectations and then found the job with something completely different. I think one of the things that helped in over my working time was that we got much more explicit, much more coherent, much more articulate about what the YMCA is really here for. When the tax challenge threat began, YMCA directors quickly learned to say, “Yeah, but we’ve got values.” And then somebody would say, “Well, tell us about those values as if it is. But pretty soon, the YMCA had a character development program and you could talk seriously and with no hypocrisy about the problems of your organization.
We had mottos that actually meant something. It meant something to say we built strong kids, strong family, and strong community. That’s actually a big declaration and I think just by rediscovering some of the vocabulary, so that you’re regular or average Joe CEO of a small time YMCA could get up before the United Way and talk movingly about what the Y is really about. I think it changed perceptions of people who are in the inner circle of the YMCA. “Oh yeah, that’s what I spend a lot of my time doing; writing about that, talking about that, trying to say, “Hey, you’re part of this organization,” but your audience was usually like volunteers and staff. “This is your organization, open your eyes and see what it is. See where we come from. See where we can go, see the values that guide us as we go."
You can get people pretty excited. The YMCA has amazingly wonderful people. I mean, I have met volunteers who would put almost anyone to shame from just their passion, their commitment, their generosity and I was lucky enough to have a bunch of them on my boards along the way and then to work with boards of YMCAs that I wasn’t directly affiliated with.
Then on the staff side, we just have someone with really deep bench. We have a lot of good talent, a lot of people ready to move into jobs as they open up. So that was a long answer to a short question and it’s not as specific, it’s not like saying, “On such and such a day, this happened and then it changed the YMCA.”
This was a process over time, but I think we really rediscovered what the Movement is about and I think that really inspired people to want to be part of it. I know that in some of the presentations I and others made, for instance key, I don’t know, are they still key leader’s conferences? I don’t know, but that used to be a big deal, the annual key leaders conference. And at those things I saw myself how excited that people could get when they suddenly realized the bigger world of which their little post was an integral part.
That’s why I'd say it would the biggest and I hope it's continuing, a process that the goes well. My knowledge of Neil, I spoke as though I really know what Neil was up to, I do. I don’t know if you know this but in retirement, I interviewed Neil twice a year and it was fun. We already knew each other before but we weren’t close. But we got to know each other pretty well through those interviews. I really can say Neil thought this or Neil thought that, and I know pretty definitely that I’m speaking correctly.
So, when you reflect on your career, what are you most proud of? I’ll use your phrase “When we're at our best” so when you or your volunteers or your staff and the work you were doing at your best, what are you most proud of?
It’s hard to give a really quick answer but one thing comes to mind for sure. I had in my longest and almost last job; I was an MRC director a role that doesn’t exist anymore. As MRC director, that’s Management Resource Center director in Philadelphia, I had enormous resources at my disposal. The MRC system, when it was at its best, was really a very powerful way of serving local YMCAs in metro areas and also if you are ever in training that you could gather a lot of people to come to because you have resources and do it for free or very cheap. And during the time that I was the MRC Director in Philadelphia which was about a decade, I saw that we changed things in a lot of YMCAs.
We did a great deal of board development work effectively and as a stronger board. But in at least a handful of cases, we saved the Y from going down and we were able in one dramatic case with a YMCA in South Jersey, I sent one of my staff people, my best staff person I probably could say, he’s going to be master of ceremonies tonight at this send off.
I sent Ken down to this YMCA and he virtually sat day by day. The executive director was a very, very good and talented woman who was just way in over her head. And so she had a very, very difficult task and Ken who’s like one of the most able Y people that I’ll ever know, really did go down week after week after week and sit with her, and that Y didn’t go down that Y came up back again and is still ticking along. And although that’s probably the most dramatic case of actually turning around the death of a YMCA, we did a lot of good stuff to make Ys stronger, to get people certified, to help YMCAs that didn’t have any resources to be able to send their people to training and they will say, "That’s okay, send them and we can handle them."
I think the MRC system was great but it had some type of flaws but I'd love to be an MRC director. That was the height of my career for sure, I just loved it. And I had 35 YMCAs that were part of that MRC. I got to know them all quite well. Among them they run up 100 YMCAs. That’s why I was able to have an almost 30-year career. I never moved I never relocated. I still live in, well, I've just moved but up until a couple of week ago, I still lived in the same house I lived when I began my Y career.
Describe your feelings when you were told that you were nominated or elected to the YMCA Hall of Fame?
I was blown away. I didn’t expect it and I'm still, I want this to come out right. I still don’t really feel that I qualified. I know a lot about the Hall of Fame and that’s one reason I guess why I was so surprised. I was on the Hall of Fame committee; this would be back in the ‘90s. It was the kind of thing, you know, you and I are friends, you retire, I nominate you for the hall of fame, your chances of getting in are pretty good. If I can write a good story about you and get three other people to say "Yeah and it was all 'is the salt of the earth'". The Hall of Fame committee never met face-to-face because there was no budget for that. There was no way to do that so it was telephone, conference call kind of stuff.
Then, if Vanessa got into the Hall of Fame, she would get this phone call from the guy on the Springfield College staff that’s been to oversee the Hall of Fame three different ones in my time. He would call and say, "Vanessa I've got great news. You've been elected to the YMCA Hall of Fame,” and she's like, "Oh that’s fantastic." I say, "You're going to be inducted at our next general assembly which is in Kansas City next year. We have no budget for travel expenses so you’re going to have to get there on your own money, pay your own hotel bill, you buy your own airplane ticket. But it's still a great honor, don’t get me wrong."
Well, that was just preposterous. So after a while I became chair of the Hall of Fame committee and I began a reform process with a couple of collaborators and we made very, very dramatic changes in the Hall of Fame. First of all, we set the bar higher and we made sure that there were clear criteria. We increased the number of people who had to attest. We increased the background check kind of thing that had kind of fallen through the cracks. But we also got funding. I went to the aforementioned Ken Gladish and pleaded for some money and got it.
And we also got the contributions from the other sponsors including the Retirement Fund. Now when I call Vanessa and tell her, I say, "We're going to give you an honorarium which will cover your travel expenses and the travel with your spouse or significant other and you’ll be doing this at our expense.” It makes a lot of difference and we tried to raise the visibility and the seriousness of our Hall of Fame. We stopped inducting people every year and like every three years. John Preis by the way was a major, major force. John believes in the Hall of Fame and wants it to be the big deal. I think it has kind of become by now. He pressed hard for this saying, "Let’s drop this every year induction, and go to every three. Also let's do things so people know more about the Hall of Fame to raise the visibility." And it all seemed to work pretty well.
Now my role with the Hall of Fame is what I'm going to be doing with Ryan Bean and its great fun. It’s to go back and find some of the people that no one in a long time has heard of. It’s just such extraordinary stuff that’s why I said I really deep in my heart, I don’t think I belong in their company.
I mean, standing shoulder to shoulder with these giants who created the YMCA Movement and who just made extraordinary, extraordinary sacrifices. The number of men of wealth who went in to underprivileged countries and spent time building the YMCA, they didn’t have to do anything like that. They were comfortable back here and they had big corporate jobs but they just were strong believers.
So anyhow, I think over time we kind of got it right about the Hall of Fame. But when I got my call they told me I had been included, I was just dumbfounded and partly because I had been so close to it. You know, I'm working on all these mechanical stuff like that it just didn’t occur to me that I myself might become a candidate. I'm very happy about it. I'm glad. When I go to Springfield College, I go down and look at my plaque.
So, again back to that high school kid who didn’t really know about the YMCA, and now you're here today. So today, what does the YMCA mean to you?
Today, the YMCA means to me, an organization, I'll stick with that Movement word which maybe we didn’t be that, I do believe that. Movement is a powerful word because it suggests direction and acceleration and so on. I think it really is, at its heart, dedicated to the best of human life. I think, I used to say as a throwaway line that some Ys are much better than others and that will always be the case. That will be partly because of resources partly because of different people have different levels of talents.
Some Ys will always be better than others. But in a bad Y on a bad day, something good is going to happen to some kid. I mean, it just is that way. There's some, I almost happened to say magic but there certainly is a spirit in the organization. I think that the best of our Ys and the other Ys when they're having good days, I really believe in helping children become productive adults, become compassionate adults become caring and involved adults.
I think that a lot of our people in the Y including the lowest paid people that we have which are in our childcare operations, really come to work because they believe they are preparing the next generation of citizens, the next generation of leaders. I think that’s a very, very big deal. And I think our best YMCAs in the Movement overall also are constant daily witness to the wholeness of the human family. I mean, I've been in Ys right there in the Philadelphia area where 15 languages are spoken. They have to have their application forms in a whole bunch of different languages. They’d have to have interpreters. They have the poorest kids around intermingling with kids who come from regular middle class homes and it all works, because there is that spirit that even if a family is one thing, it belongs together in one world.
I think the international aspect of the YMCA, although it is not as well-known as I would like and just assume you would like, is also incredibly powerful.
I said I came back from India and Thailand and Mexico walking tall because I had seen those were my brothers and sisters in other countries doing astonishing things with nickels and dimes. I mean, they were on budget that our branches were just lack that and say "How do you expect me to run an organization on a budget like that? How do you expect me to make anything happen unless you can give me more to work with?" Back to what the YMCA means to me now, I think that also in most communities, the YMCA is at the center of social services. Often it’s the largest United Way agency. Now I know that that has changed in the United Way so much less significant factor in local YMCA budgets. But when YMCA flies the flag every year about here are the agencies you're supporting, you're going to see YMCA right up there because they know people want to support the YMCA and therefore of the United Way. I think Ys have been at the forefront of interagency cooperation, interagency programming.
Now there's this wonderful Movement of mergers of YMCA which is one of the biggest things happening right now. I'm not, I'm a little out of it right now but I'm aware of this stuff going on around me and I know there are fewer YMCAs now than they were 10 years but it's not because, it’s not mostly because YMCAs die, it’s because they merged. I think this is very exciting too.
We're creating some power house of YMCAs and one of the things that happens when they do that is just YMCAs now have the resources to do things like eternally subsidize a YMCA in a poor neighborhood. This Y is never going to turn to profit, this Y is never going to be able to get financial help from the metro organization, but we're big enough, strong enough and we care enough, we can do this. Can we send poor kids to camp? You bet. Can we get everybody a membership that has to have one? Yeah, we can to that. So the critical mass grows and this is the time in history of large organizations.
The little YMCA that managed to stagger along in a couple of $100,000 a year, they're gone. That’s just a thing of the past. I have regarded the mergers that I know about, there're many I don’t know about but the ones that I know worked very, very positively. I just I think that’s a very great strong thing for the organization, for the Movement.
Is there anything I didn’t ask about today that you'd like to share, something comes right up?
Well, I will say that it’s a wonderful career. If I could be, and I have been on occasion, the Roy Schlessman for some high school kid or more likely some college kid, I think if I sensed the right stuff in the young person I would love to say this can be a very, very good life, a very good career. One of the things that I noticed and that surprised me earlier on with the Y coming out of the business background was that we took young, green people and put them in charge of big budgets and big problem areas. Some kid out of college and he's now the physical director, all right, this is not a hypothetical story and suddenly he's got a budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In a YMCA that is not bureaucratized and most of them aren’t, even in the big metros, there's an awful lot of autonomy down to the branch level, which means that if you wake up while you're running a program director, and you wake up one morning and say, "Here's something I’d really like to try." Well, the odds are your idea is not going to have to go through eight levels of committees; it's not going to have to be voted on by a board. But if I'm your CEO and you say it’s a good idea and I say, “Hey, run with it. We'll see. And if you fall on your face it's, okay. We'll let's give it a try. Let's take a little bit of a risk here.” I think we're an organization that encourages creativity, ingenuity, originality and a lot of our good stuff hasn’t come from top down, it hasn’t been invented in Chicago and passed down.
It started here at this little Y. We had some YMCAs getting involved in diabetes prevention programs. Teaching people about diet and exercise and the other things that it takes to forestall diabetes. A lot of that just started in local levels often because someone on the staff or board was diabetic and had a concern about this. But I think it’s a wonderful organization for people who want try stuff out. If you go to work for a big corporation, the idea that you'll have, that kind of accountability and responsibility in the first couple years of your life is not going to happen. But in the Y it happens all the time. It's scary. You say to this guy "I have this idea" and he says, "That might just work. You just try it. Here's a little bit of money, see what you can do."
So, I would like to encourage, again the right people not everybody obviously, to consider Y careers. We have so many different kinds of jobs; we have so many different kinds of opportunities. We're in every location around the globe that anybody might want to work. And we always need good people.
There always has to be an influx of other people. I would like to do that kind of recruiting as I get the chance. There are a few people that I take credit for bringing in to the YMCA who went on to astonishing success and one is sitting next to you right now. Vanessa probably told you that I was her first boss in the YMCA. And yet she worked out pretty good. By the way she gave me more hassle than you could possibly believe. I could tell you stories, maybe I can do it later but not here while we're on tape. I mentioned Bob Gallagher before. I'm very proud of him as well. Just like Vanessa, I hooked him away from private a health club. Bob, he's now the CEO of the very Y that I was the CEO at that time. He had done just amazing, amazing work. I look and these are my Y children and I'm very proud of them.
That’s another nice thing about the Y career is you can find some people like that and get their feet set on the path. Vanessa told me that she was only going to stay a short time. Just as I told my wife, "Don’t worry; I'm only going to here a couple of years." But yeah, Vanessa is not interested in this stuff. I sent her to CDP. I know its different initials now P&P, but then she came back beginning to get the idea. She’s very bright.
So for the record we have Vanessa Boulous in the room with us from YMCA Retirement Fund.
Thank you and you only get two questions. I know Bill as you know, since the first day I ever worked for the Y so I know he's humble. He's always has been humble. Magnificent career with impact far beyond what anybody could comprehend. So we do want to take the chance to capture a little bit all of that. One way might be to get that is if you were thinking Ken White and some of your great colleagues will be in a room tonight across the United States.
We were all sitting together, you weren't in the room and we were talking about you and the great work you've done. Giving me a few adjectives, giving me a few words of what you think really we all believe. I know what you did for the Movement and then for us as individuals in both personal and professional matters, give me some good stuff.
When I was in the twilight of my career, I began to think in those terms. What I'm I doing here? Plus, I had every job I had in mind was a wonderful job and they were different. Some were obviously more rewarding than others but they were all good jobs. The word that I thought of about myself and that I would like my colleagues in the room to think about is explainer. I think that I internalized the mission of the YMCA to the point where I was very, very comfortable explaining saying this is what the Y is about. And I did that on paper for many, many years writing my column for Prospective Magazine as well as a bunch of other material. And I did it with my voice. I was a constant speaker at the key leaders' conferences, YMCA annual meetings and all those kind of stuff.
Although my shtick varied from and every once in a while I, through my little way, started pressuring them, but what I wanted to do was express some of what we've been talking about this hour, what the YMCA really is at its heart. And I wanted to be remembered as an interpreter of the YMCA, now that’s a little bit of a side show from the development of people.
The other award that I got that meant almost as much to me as the Hall of Fame, was the Kuenzli-Hall award about the APD now AYP gives, and that is for outstanding service especially in the development of others. That’s the other thing I would like people to say about me, “Bill may not have been great himself but man did he bring some talents on to the bench here.” So those two things, but I'm proud of my job as an interpreter of the YMCA and I can tell you for sure that after I make these speeches in different places, I've reached a few people from the audience come up and say, “I never thought of it that way before. I never heard it expressed that way before.” And sometimes of course somebody–some maybe program director, “My Y isn’t like that at all.” Which is what I also did a great deal training and I contacted our friend Ken. Ken and I, we’re a team. We did a lot of training together. We always held up the highest possible vision of the YMCA. There were always trainees who would say, “You’re not describing my YMCA,” or “I can’t go back and do this stuff. My boss won’t let me.” Some of them were right.
Unfortunately, some of them were right. But we’ve tried to draw the picture that we want the people to have in their head. So that’s when you talk about my colleagues being in a room somewhere, that’s another thing I didn’t. I said that I work with some of the best people in the world, but the team of consultants that we have together at the time I was approaching retirement were an incredibly talented, effective group of men and women.
I mean, I get in a room with these people and think “My God this is so much talent in this room right now. That’s so much help for a YMCA.” The whole paradigm of what we were up to shifted with Neil and I wasn’t happy by all of it. I think that was a great loss when we closed field offices and pulled them, work out of their basement. I think a lot of collegiality was lost there and a lot of creativity comes from sitting in a room together and taking ideas from that. That was much harder to do once each consultant resource manager was required to have a home office and there was no more, there was no more practical support, no more offices with machines and that kind of stuff. I think that was a loss. But when we have our meetings together, it was just be incredible. Glenn Wilson, who was the east field executive, did an original thing in having meetings where you pull together both the field consultants and the MRC directors.
Those have been silo groups previously. Glenn did it, the field, not so much. But we would, among other things, sit at that table and somebody would say, “I’ve got a really hard case. I’ve got a YMCA that’s in this kind of trouble and I don’t know what to do.” Then you had in the room, a dozen first-rate thinkers and doers and the ideas would emerge. I mean, I kept really good company. The other thing is that we’re all friends. There was very, very little competitiveness or in fighting or anything of that sort. We all knew we were doing the same stuff but just in different circumstances, I miss it. I miss those people. Of course by now many of them have retired as well. I’ve been retired 12 years now.
That last question that we could go on and on is what did the Y do for you personally that you want to share?
The Y may be a better person. I began to understand that about myself. I was never captain evil or anything, but when I came to the Y, I was egotistical, I was self-centered and my first experiences in the Y, I felt I was really kind of better than the people around me. Partly by the way, my first training experiences, my own CDP, was ghastly. I mean, it was awful. That’s another reason why I wanted to become a trainer. Later I thought surely you can do better that this. But anyway, I definitely had a feeling that and again, I wasn’t planning to stay long. So I was the guy who might sit at the back of the room making funny comments under my breath and this kind of stuff. That all went away, that all went away. The hook got in me and the flame appeared. I suddenly realized, “My goodness I’ve stumbled.” That’s almost what it was. I’ve stumbled into this absolutely wonderful thing. When I said I came in by accident, that’s really true. I had sold my business and looking for something to do. I was in the post office and ran into a friend, a woman in my church and she had an appointment agency.
And I said, “You know, I’m looking for a job. I’ve been working in Philadelphia all these years. I wouldn’t mind working right here in my own town.” And she said, “I can’t help you. My agency only deals with clerical people.” So I got home and the phone was ringing and it was her and she said, “I don’t know where my brain was. I’m on the selection committee in my local YMCA and we’re looking for an executive director.” And I just laughed and I said, “Do you see me as a YMCA director?” She said, “Yes.” Well, as weeks followed she just wouldn’t leave me alone. She called every night at dinner time. My wife got so mad. And she finally insisted that I at least come and meet the chairman of the board of the Y. And I did and you know and it really was just a fluke. If I hadn’t been in the post office that day and never approached her, I just think I would have never thought of the Y.
If I had seen the job listed, it would not have looked like me to me. So the Y made me a better person. I can be better yet of course, but the Y definitely did that, and if it’s not already intimated, engaged me with wonderful people all to me good stuff, so you couldn’t ask a lot more out of a career, really. The fact that I also felt very fairly compensated, I guess that much is a given.
Mr. Bill Cameron thank you for your time today and your insight we really appreciate it.
Well, it was fun for me.