Growing up on Rin-Tin-Tin and Lassie, I had dreamed of having a dog. But we were a large family living in a really small house, so it was not be. Many years later, during my fourth year of teaching, the desire arose again and I casually mentioned it to some of my students. A day or so later one of the students, who was a favorite of mine, brought in a photograph of his baby brother who was petting a little fat fur ball of a puppy. His family was moving out of the district and he needed to find a good home for the puppy. With some trepidation I took the puppy, which was a mix of at least German shepherd and golden lab. The student wouldn’t take any money because he wanted the puppy to be a gift. A more loving and playful dog never lived. The student moved shortly thereafter, but I never forgot his name — Donnie Shoff — or his gift.
Three decades later, on my birthday, I sat across from a young man who I was interviewing for a position with our company. While he had the passion and abilities I was hoping for, he appeared a bit rough around the edges and the rather large tattoo he sported didn’t help his case. I had pretty much decided not to offer him the job. But, as the interview wound down, he mentioned that his mother remembered my name from years ago when his brother had been in my drawing class. His brother, he said, had become a successful chemical engineer, had lived in England and was now deceased. Brian Shoff, who now sat across from me, was that toddler petting that puppy in that photo which I still have. Against my first assessments, I felt that I had to give this guy a chance. And I did.
Brian is now in his sixth year with us and I pray that he remains long after I’m gone. He has set the bar for everyone. First impressions are a tricky thing. Anyway, I feel as if Donnie, even after death, gave me another gift.

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