Many of you have heard the well-known story of President John F. Kennedy and his encounter with a janitor while touring NASA in the 1960s. As President Kennedy walked through the facility, he introduced himself to staff and asked about their respective roles at the space center.
Each quickly obliged, offering an official title or job function. But the one that made the most stirring impression on Kennedy was a janitor with acute focus on the mission. In response to President Kennedy’s question of “So what do you do here?” the janitor replied, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” In the instance you hear this story, you immediately understand that the janitor nailed it. He had completely embraced the vision – or perhaps the vision had embraced him. Either way, he got it, and he understood the notion of working toward something bigger than one’s self.
I cannot help but think of that story as the Employee Recognition Celebration unfolds each year. Annually, we have one of the grandest celebrations for our long-tenured employees. We have held this wonderful event for 29 years now. It is absolutely my favorite day of the year with you, and I love seeing how it gets bigger each time. Just within the ballroom last week, we had about as many employees as we used to have in the entire organization. Can you believe that?
It is sometimes hard to fathom how we have grown or how many people mark decades of dedication to Texas Children’s each year. Last Tuesday was our largest celebration yet – we honored 31 recognition award recipients and more than 650 employees celebrating 15 to 45 years of tenure. Altogether, those tenured employees represent 12,000+ years of service to the mission of Texas Children’s, our patients and their families.
One element that has become a highlight of the event are the employee videos shown before each milestone group. Through this handful of short videos spotlighting Texas Children’s employees, the audience gets touching glimpses of what makes this such a special place.
Most of us could not help but smile while watching the video of 15-year employee and Facilities Operations Lead Guadalupe Mendoza. She referred to Texas Children’s as a family that must support one another, and regarding her job, she said proudly, “Yes it’s housekeeping, someone has to keep it clean. We’re talking about children and keeping the area clean for them. Why not me? I’m good at it, I know I’m good at it. So that’s what I do every day – my best.” Guadalupe absolutely gets it. Her best helps Texas Children’s be the best.
I was also struck by 40-year employee and Director of Renal and Pheresis Services Helen Currier when she said, “I’m celebrating my 40th year of commitment.” Helen reminds us that we are not simply employed here. We are deeply committed to a shared mission. What an inspiring thing.
Another telling moment came from Biomedical Engineering Director John Weimert who once served in the U.S. Navy, working on missile control radar systems. He noted his appreciation for the environment here and how it has allowed him to take risks and innovate. Subsequently, he leads with that same philosophy and works to create an environment where people on his team can express themselves and grow. He said he refers to his department as a flower bed and that “people in the department are my flowers.”
But I must say, the most memorable of moments that afternoon came by way of 45-year employee Karol Musher, a senior speech language pathologist. Karol recalled when we were one building, had no computers and enjoyed parking right outside our office doors. What has kept her here and passionate since those early decades are our patients and their families and the opportunity to help improve the quality of their lives. And even after 45 years in, she said, “Everyone I know has retired and is doing things they think are fun. Well, I think this is fun. I can’t imagine doing anything that would make me feel more productive, more helpful or as valuable to other people as I hope my tenure here has been.”
I think for a few moments, we all just hung a bit on Karol’s words. Karol gets it, and in that moment as we applauded, giving her a long, well-deserved standing ovation, I am certain we all got it. We understood in that moment that we are part of something amazing here, and that we must always approach our work with an appreciation for the mission that is larger than the task at hand.
Guadalupe, Helen, John and Karol and all of us are contributing to the care of our patients. We are all making discoveries and finding cures, creating hope and providing healing. We are, collectively, the heart of Texas Children’s. Every person and every job is critical. Every task must be done with excellence, no matter how seemingly small. Every day, we must remind ourselves that we are all working toward something so much greater than our individual selves. We are not putting the first man on the moon. But our mission is ensuring any of our patients could be the next one there.