Mentors, Mentees and Spies

Rogers GassnerWe were out at a secret little hole-in-the-wall restaurant last night in Lambertville, N.J.  You can drive right past it and think it’s a grungy little bar.  But if you chance to step inside, it’s like stepping into a worm-hole that takes you directly to Manhattan.  We sat down, ordered our drinks, and Pamela kicked off the conversation, with a twinkle.   “So…  What’s on deck for the next article?”

I hadn’t given it a thought, at least I didn’t think I had, and here’s where things get a little strange.  That naughty, clever gal I call my Muse, had apparently been working on the concept for a quite while without my knowing it.  I (she) said, “Mentoring?” The question mark was mine, but the topic was hers.  It’s difficult to explain muses.  For those who know me and Pamela, you know we aren’t into the flaky mystical stuff, which makes it all the more difficult to explain Muses.  Suffice it to say, when my writing is at its best, it’s when I’m in the back seat and my muse is in the driver’s seat careening into no-man’s land.  In a rare moment last night, it was my Muse who spoke up and did most of the talking. The subject, apparently, is Mentors, mentoring, and mentees.  For the record, I thought the receiving end of Mentors was Mentorees, but I was wrong and my Muse, who has a better vocabulary was right.

“Is a mentor the same as a teacher?” Pamela asked.

“No,” my muse replied.

I’m going to give her a name now...finally after all these years, if only to make the dialogue run smoother.  Liz…short for Elizabeth.  That’s my Muse’s name from here on.   Liz said, “All mentors are teachers…of a sort, but not all teachers are mentors.  If you hire a carpenter to teach you how to put in a deck, the carpenter is your teacher, but he isn’t your mentor.   A mentor is someone senior to you who knows the ropes and for his or her own personal reasons, has decided to take you in under his wing and give you special attention.  If you listen to your mentor, you can learn a helluva lot very quickly.”

Rogers Gassner:  I’ve had two mentors in my life, both family men, gentlemen, men with class and both smart-as-a-whip.  For today and for logistics, I’ll keep it to Rogers…Rog.

Pam and I met Rogers Gassner when we were sent to Yokota AFB, Japan, for a four-year tour.  Rogers was ex-Navy but had been the Air Force’s liaison with the GOJ, govenment of Japan, since…forever.  He knew everyone and he knew how to make things happen at  very high levels.  I was Tempest Officer (there was only one…me…in the Pacific theater at the time) and it was my huge job to make sure that all of Japan, Misawa, Korea, and Okinawa were bug free…….electronically bug free, not the Orkin kind.

In many ways it was the stuff of some James Bond movie scenes and it was a job that I wasn’t allowed to talk about until 20 years after I left the Air Force.  I’m not joking.  Rogers knew the scope of what I had to do and decided to run interference for me, in Korea, Japan,  Okinawa, etc.  But our business relationship rapidly became a friendship and then somewhere along the line, he became my mentor as well.

Rog and his wife, Yoshi, and Pam and I would go to the officer’s club together and we all got along great and had terrific conversations.  But then in little bars in Osan, Taegu, Okinawa, and unmentionable places the mentoring began.  Rogers began to teach me the stuff that’s not in the books  but things I really needed to know:  How to deal with the Japanese as well as the GOJ, the government of Japan, who basically would rather we got the hell out of their country, how to deal with the ROK, the Korean government…putting in secret (at the time) underground complexes which the ROK needed…and yet highly resented.  How to survive in Osan, where the main bread-winning of the town was prostitution.

The first night we landed in Korea (even at 35000 feet you could smell the kimchee cooking.  It smells like a stopped-up cesspool) Rog, explained that every single girl in the bar was a prostitute (not too hard to figure) but maybe one-in-twenty was also a North Korean spy.  I remember him grinning oddly at me and saying,  “And they know what your job is, Henry, and they know exactly why you’re here.”

In retrospect, he was right and that would make a novel in its own right.  But Rog had  taken me under his wing and with his bestowing critical knowledge plus the extras which were ephemeral, yet necessary, we were able to do a pretty good job of debugging the pacific theater.   Had I not had a mentor, things would have turned out differently.  Take that to mean, much worse.

The funny thing was, Rog wasn’t assigned to me, nor I to him.  It was  mentoring but on a high multi-level.  Pamela asked me last night if it wasn’t some kind of symbiosis, the relationship between mentor and mentee.   I don’t think so, not in the purest concept of the word.  Symbiosis means that both parties derive an equal advantage from the relationship and that usually isn’t the case.   I think it’s on a higher or maybe different level.  A mentor gives much more than he gains.  But perhaps it’s his way of paying back to the world…and possibly living on through his proteges.

When I was interviewed by Peter Schiffer as to WHY  I wanted to do two books on sculpting secrets, my response was, “It’s payback time.”  Peter got it and I think that was the main reason we went forward with both books.  They were and are my attempt at mentoring.

Women carry on their life, their essence, by actually growing a new life.  Men can’t do that.  But we can be mentors to others and it’s rewarding in an of itself.

Rogers died several years ago but not before we began communicating again.  John F. Kennedy defined CLASS as grace under pressure.  What a simple and perfect definition.   Rogers was always a true gentleman, a man of incredible class…incredible grace under what was often lethal pressure…particularly in those little Korean bars.

…I was going to go on now to my second mentor, Harold Notarius, who mentored me during another much different portion of my life…my life as a sculptor, but Liz has, for her own reasons, decided that I should save that for another day.  The topic of mentoring isn’t finished yet, but it will be.

Thanks for listening.  Henry





1 Response to "Mentors, Mentees and Spies"

  1. Mimi Harvey says:

    I enjoyed the article Henry wrote immensely.

    I have had a number of mentors, but , unlike Henry, I’m a Mystic and some of my mentors have been other-worldly, so to say, angel thoughts , my Muses, that have inspired me. I can’t do anything creatively from the intellect. It’s all from inspiration.

    But to my human mentors,
    One was a marble sculptor and painter who asked me to manage his gallery. He taught me how to use the stone carving tools and I became his apprentice. I discovered I loved working in three dimensions and loved to sculpt in stone. I had , however, first discovered my love of sculpting from my brother who had given me some self-hardening clay. I made two unicorn heads out of the clay and sold them both.
    Amedeo, the owner of the gallery was a fantastic sculptor and painter and he let me display anything I created ,paintings and sculptures in his gallery .. That was a wonderful opportunity. He also let my mother display her art and sculptures. I had given her a piece of green steatite ( soap stone) out of which she had carved a woman sitting on a lotus blossom. She had always wanted to sculpt ever since she read Irving Stone’s “The Agony and the Ecstacy” while sitting in a Greek diner one summer waiting for me while I took a German class in order that I could skip second year German and perhaps go for my Junior Year Abroad to Germany, which I did. My mother was my first and most important mentor, my brother was also my mentor when he let me manage his gallery and sell my art there.

    The most recent one was an old art customer who had bought some of my earliest paintings when I lived in Manhattan in the 1960’s when I was only painting for my own pleasure. When I moved to North Carolina , it was after my parents had died and I was a total basket case, could no longer paint and hadn’t painted in many years. This former art customer of mine found me on the internet and we began a correspondence. I told him via e-mail that if he and his wife ever came to Asheville, I would love it if they would stay with me. Two months later they were here and I discovered that both John and Mary Ann, his wife , were kindred spirits. They invited me out to eat and we attended a local production of “Macbeth” together. We had wonderful long conversations together. They then went on to visit Charleston and Savannah before flying home to Portland, Oregon.

    I received an email from John when they returned home. He had been horrified that I had developed a block about painting and told me he wanted to commision me to do two small paintings 5″ x 7″. I could paint anything I wanted to, even vent negative emotions and he would buy them. Well, I can’t paint depressing subjects and the days and then months passed. John would write me short e-mails saying the money was burning a hole in his pocket. One day I told a friend here that I would paint something that day no matter what. I wrote to John and asked him if one of the paintings could be 8″ x 10′. He said fine. I started paintings and painted 3 small paintings, two were 5″x7″ and one 8″x10″. I sent them copies of the paintings via e-mail. They wanted to buy all three and loved them! I ended up turning them into greeting cards as well. John was truly a mentor for he helped me break the block I had about painting and believed in me.

    I’d better stop now. I’ve written enough.

    Thank you Henry for your inspiring articles.

    Mimi , Asheville , NC

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