Bert was four when his dad died of pneumonia and typhoid fever.

Later, his mother died of pneumonia and typhoid fever, making Bert an orphan at ten.

Bert, his brother, and his sister were sent to different relatives’ homes, permanently separating them. 

At age eleven, Bert was transported from an Iowa farm to another family member in Oregon. He became an immediate outcast, uncouth, raggedly dressed, and so painfully shy that some adults questioned his mental ability. He was friendless. 

And then Bert met Miss Jennie Gray, or perhaps one could more accurately say that Miss Jennie met Bert. She was the daughter of a prosperous banker who passed down his beautiful house in the center of town to her. Miss Jennie asked Bert if he read books. He replied that he did not, so she took him to the town library and checked out Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe for Bert to read. By now, Bert was a young teenager, so Jennie introduced him to another youngster named Burt from the other side of the tracks. 

Miss Jennie was an active member of the local Presbyterian church. She taught the boys in her Bible class each Sunday, and she did more. She invited Bert and Burt to her home and taught them the skills of refined living. Limited food supply meant little knowledge about how to behave at the table. Miss Jennie not only introduced the boys to a rich selection of foods, but she also instructed them on the various utensils of silverware. “Over the meal, Miss Gray lectured her guests on self-reliance, urging them to take responsibility for their futures…advising them to develop their character more than their fortunes.” She challenged them to summarize and explain the books they were reading. Miss Jennie awakened the talent within Bert like a flower blooming.

Although virtually no one envisioned a future for Bert, Miss Jennie did. Where town folks and even relatives saw a lump of coal, Jennie Gray saw a diamond in the rough. While she lived to see him go on to work his way through college, become a geologist, and travel the world building a fortune through his mining ventures, she did not last long enough to witness him become the most beloved man in Europe for his leadership feeding the orphans of Europe after World War I. She did not behold Bert ascending to the presidency of the United States and then again organizing the feeding of the children of Europe after World War II.

Bert, Herbert Hoover, would long treasure Miss Jennie Gray’s influence on his life, remembering her fondly until his death at age 90. He died a world statesman. 

While you will not likely encounter a future president in your work, I bet you will meet some diamonds in the rough. Don’t overlook people. Whether you work with or serve them as your clients and customers, they could hold something special.

*Source: Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times by Kenneth Whyte