Duke Fisher and My Big Win

Expectations of me were high when I was growing up. I’d overhear my parents talking about how well I’d do in school, sports, drivers training. Some of the talks included “it’ll be easy for him.” I remember having an odd combination of confidence and anxiety. Like I do today.

On the playground, I had always been among the first picked for a ball game. I worried about those picked last. I hated those moments. Watching two eight-year-old classmates hoping to be chosen. One would be last. I’d use my influence to get the judges, er,  “captains” to pick a person that was usually chosen last. At eight years old, I was never sure what to do. It calmed me down to see their excitement. Anxiety.

But when the game started, my mind was completely focused. Confidence.

At home and with friends, I loved to entertain. When my older sister would have friends over, she would call me to the living room for a performance.

Me doing my impersonation of Roger Miller

I would oblige with stories, voices, songs or readings. My dad would call me to the kitchen when his friends stopped by. “Hey Steve, show us how Dick Mc Auliffe bats.” Mc Auliffe played second base for the Detroit Tigers from 1960-1973. I would strike the batting stance of McAuliffe, bat straight over my left shoulder, right foot extended. They would laugh, then I would do Willie Horton, Al Kaline, and other Tigers. When I got older it became a game with friends and co-workers.

Through the years, the anxiety left when the first pitch was thrown or when I walked out on stage or had the spotlight.  I knew early what kind of activities made me happy and what I liked about myself. There was something wonderfully built-in that made me want to step between the lines. But it took a special conversation in college to remind me of the happiness of staying between those lines and how I could help others win in the process.

When I graduated from high school I didn’t have a plan or a vision. I found work and good pay at an Ore-Ida foods plant in Greenville, Mi. But I knew I wanted more. When I would talk to my dad about college, he’d talk me down from it. “What would you study?” “I dunno…media.” “What’s that?” “I want to operate a camera, write speeches,  run audio. You know, work with people.”  “You could drive a taxi if you want to work with people. I can’t afford college.” “That’s okay dad, I’ll figure it out.”  Anxiety and confidence.

I saved my money, applied to some schools and got accepted at Grand Valley State in Allendale, Michigan. 

My focus was a liberal arts degree from William James College, one of the “cluster colleges” at Grand Valley State. This is where I would study my master plan: how to write the speeches, run cameras, and audio. My sophomore year I took a class in public relations from the Seidman College of Business, also at Grand Valley. My PR class was taught by E. Dawson Fisher. He was referred to as “Duke.” He was a fantastic associate professor and I did a very good impersonation of him.   If there were students in class early, I would sometimes get in front of the room and entertain them as Duke. Confidence.

Here comes my big win. Compliments of Duke Fisher. One night, after class, Duke asked me if I could meet him the next morning. I agreed and we met at 8am in his office. He had a paper I had written about the Tylenol crisis earlier that year.

“Did you write this paper?” “Yes, I did.” He asked me what I wanted to do. He asked what my goals were in attending Grand Valley. I told him my master plan. “Steve,” Duke leaned forward in his chair and looked me in the eye, “you’re in the wrong school (William James). You don’t want to run the camera, you want to be in front of the camera. You don’t want to write the speeches, you want to be delivering them. You don’t want to run audio, you want to speak into the microphone.”  I sat staring at him. I remember thinking “he knows me better than I do just from reading that crappy paper.”  We had a nice meeting and I told him I’d think about it. When I left his office I went to admissions, got an updated class catalog and started creating the new master plan. Anxiety. Deep down.

Duke Fisher was using “success when others win.” His skill at reading between the lines of the written word and his skill at having a discussion with a 22-year-old created a life-changing win for me. I went on to spend 23 years at Meijer with 13 of those being in marketing and public relations. Then to Loeks Theatres for 11 years in marketing and public relations. At home and at work I’ve enjoyed seeing people get to do things they are good at. Helping them to get more income, balance work and family, help a neighbor, a family member get a win. And tell them if I thought they were in the right or wrong place. Duke’s win was getting me to transfer from William James to Seidman. Even more, I hope he got a deep down feeling of joy and satisfaction putting his skills to work for me. Leaders: If you want to grow and improve your life and business- then help others win.

How to be more like Duke

  1. Watch and listen. Duke did more than read my paper. He watched me in class. When I wasn’t speaking up, he would call me out. If I answered incorrectly, he would patiently set me, and the class, straight. When I was right, he grinned and pointed at me with affirmation. He saw how I interacted in groups or lead the way when we had trips to the Adcraft Club of Detroit. And I knew he was watching and listening.
  2. Recognize that helping others win is serious business. Duke didn’t have to talk with me about my talents. But he did. He could have slept in that morning or had an extra cup of coffee. No one would have said a thing if he hadn’t analyzed my writing. But he did. I like to think leaders have an obligation to help people win. Duke did too.
  3. Tell them. Leaders often see the skill set in others. You see their talents, their aptitude, their knack, their gifts. Tell them. Tell them what you believe they are good at. Whether they agree or not is not an issue. Tell them anyway. Give them the opportunity to think of themselves differently, to look into the mirror you hold up in front of them. Let them see themselves in a new light, a new reflection. 

This Sunday, July 1st, 2018 will mark the 10th anniversary of the passing of E. Dawson “Duke” Fisher. He was 82. Two years ago I had a tattoo created that included Duke’s face in the montage. Yes, the talk we had was that important.

My beautiful tattoo art was created by Grace Bender

The talk meant so much for those 35 years that I wanted to remember him each day for the next 35. Thanks, Duke.

This Sunday I will be thinking of all of you. Hoping you are able to find a way to help someone else win. If you want an exuberant joy, love, compassion, understanding, wisdom in your life – then help others win.

And I’ll be standing in the living room striking poses of baseball players and telling stories to Wendy. I’ll tell her how my anxiety is so much better now with her help, and without a stage or a baseball field. Then she’ll remind me again of my talents and coping skills. That’s the big win. My big win.

Celebrating Duke Fisher:

E. Dawson (Duke) Fisher, 82, former associate professor of advertising and public relations at Grand Valley State University, died Tuesday, July 1, 2008. A longtime Kentwood resident, he taught at GVSU from 1980-1992 following a distinguished career that included 26 years at the J.L. Hudson Co. in Detroit, where he was vice president, sales promotion. Born in Detroit, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English from Wayne State University. He obtained a master’s degree from Central Michigan University and completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Business Administration. While in college, he was editor of the Highland Parker newspaper in Highland Park, Mich. He joined Hudson’s in 1948 and held positions of increasing responsibility, ultimately overseeing advertising, public relations, and special events. One of his notable contributions was bringing the annual International Freedom Festival fireworks to Detroit. He began his teaching career in 1974 at Walsh College, where he created the business communications department and served as director of development. Before joining GVSU in 1980, he was vice president, community relations, for the Michigan Cancer Foundation. Active in civic and professional organizations, he was president of the Adcraft Club of Detroit and served on the boards of the Detroit Pistons and the Detroit Symphony. He chaired the board of advisors for the Wayne State University Press. Local involvement included the Advertising Federation of Grand Rapids and the Red Cross and United Way in Kent County. He enjoyed family and friends, books, northern Michigan and Civil War history.


One thought on “Duke Fisher and My Big Win

  1. I see E. Dawson Fisher smiling in Heaven because of you passing along his great qualities and life changing influences. It’s calming to hear a story about an ordinary person helping others. Thank You.


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