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People Who Put Character First
by Isabel Lyman
23 April 2000

Isabel Lyman I am allergic to self-help advice. Oprah, don't teach me to be assertive.

Dr. Laura, don't tell me the stupid things women do to mess up their lives.

And who cares, Stephen Covey, how many habits it takes to become a highly effective person.

Sometimes I just want to muddle through life.

So, why did I enthusiastically go to hear Tom Hill, the creator of Character First! and chief operating officer of Kimray Inc. speak at the Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon last week?

By the way, Character First! helps individuals develop 49 positive qualities, like patience and boldness. The program is very popular with management personnel who are eager to find ways to reduce workplace headaches, like harassment accusations and accidents.

It wasn't to hear some of Edmond's movers-and-shakers, like City Manager Leonard Martin and attorney Lloyd McAlister, gush to the crowd how Hill's character training methods have benefited their work environments. The City of Edmond, McAlister's legal firm and Edmond Medical Center, by the way, utilize the program.

It wasn't because of what David Frederick, the assistant director of the Character Training Institute in downtown Oklahoma City, shared. Dave, wearing a snappy Character First! golf shirt, sat with me at the luncheon, and offered tidbits of information.

“It is used by 450 companies and in 60 city governments ... incorporated in over 700 schools ... remember we hire for skills, fire for character ... more important to recognize character over achievement ... has helped families become stronger ...” yada, yada, yada.

It wasn't even because of Tom Hill's speech, although what he told the audience was impressive. He said companies that use Character First! notice a marked decline in workers compensation, a rise in productivity and morale and an improvement in profits. As he put it, “When we teach character, we are dropping a plumb line that says, 'This is wrong, this is right.'”

No, I didn't come to hear anybody's running commentary.

It's this: To meet the people who represent Character First! And, if you live in central Oklahoma, you can't avoid stumbling into them. They aren't slick. Or lazy or as cynical as I am about self-help formulas. I am a pushover for unpretentious, hard-working folks. They do put character first.

Ponder a Dave Frederick success story. He organized presidential hopeful Alan Keyes' recent visit to Oklahoma and was given, oh, six days by the candidate's handlers to plan the event. Six scant days to find lodging for the Keyes entourage, secure venues for his speeches, schedule interviews, create fliers, marshal volunteers, find drivers, and pray that more than 20 Oklahomans showed up for this campaign stop.

Well, 1,700 people turned out to hear Alan Keyes orate at Christian Heritage Academy and nearly 300 stayed for the accompanying fund-raiser. Connie Hair, Keyes' spokesperson, said it was one of the very best-organized events the campaign staff had attended. Thanks to humble, industrious Dave.

Then there's Tom Hill himself. The man doesn't know how to spin the media.

“Corporate America,” I asked him, “now bears the burden of teaching employees how to conduct themselves?”

“Yes,” Hill answered. “The problem is that 30 or 40 years ago, when we pulled the Bible out of schools, we never put anything back in.” Now Mr. Hill is cheerfully filling the void.

He's also creating a long-overdue debate on the touchy subject of morals. How very resourceful, wise, diligent, and responsible of him. A man of character. May his tribe greatly increase.

This column appeared in The Edmond Sun on April 23, 2000.

Isabel Lyman lives in Edmond, Oklahoma. A former editorial columnist for the Daily Hampshire Gazette of Northampton, Massachusetts, her views have appeared in various national publications, including the Wall Street Journal and Investors Business Daily. She may be contacted via e-mail by clicking here.
Click here for an index of other Isabel Lyman columns.
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