Whatever you do for a living, if you’ve done it long enough, and have diligently pursued excellence, you no doubt know an expert in your industry when you see one. Heck, we’ve all seen folks who’ve spent thousands upon thousands of hours at a hobby for which they harbor a white hot passion. They’ve become experts, whether or not they’re considered pros in the traditional sense. I’ve spoken with more than a few of ‘em over the years, and many said they simply followed somebody who knew ‘more than they did’ ’til they continued learning on their own. ‘Course, making mistakes, sometimes big ones doesn’t matter all that much when it’s a hobby and not your living — or your retirement.
I bring this up as one of my most cherished mentors, Gene Fisher, passed away last year. I met Gene as a scrawny 15 year old wannabe bodybuilder one day in 1967. I rode my bike by his gym, smiled at my luck, and walked in. He greeted me as a peer, which was awesome, considering he was the embodiment of who I wanted to become. At about 5′ 9″ tall, his chest was just under 50″, and his biceps over 20″, which was almost beyond comprehension, even to my lyin’ eyes. :- ) Gene made friends easily cuz he had sparse criteria. You had to be genuinely forthright and honest. You had to be a hard worker. You had to show respect at all times, no exceptions. You had to follow the rules of his gym. The rules? They boiled down to no roughhousing or cussing. To say his gym was OldSchool was understatement to the British degree. But most of all, you had to be teachable.
About Gene and What he Taught Me
He was an army vet, having spent almost 26 months spread over a couple tours in Viet Nam. He spent much of that time, however, in the surrounding countries. He was tough beyond description, yet one of the kindest most generous men I’ve ever known. He was later asked by his country to, as he put it, ‘spend time’ — twice — in the jungles of Panama during the Noriega period. The army also taught him to fly in a time so shortened by necessity, he laughed when tellin’ us stories about it.
His bodybuilding expertise was what I’ve come to call quietly legendary. Most of the big names in the world of bodybuilding knew him. But he rarely talked about them, except when they’d show up, completely unannounced at the gym now and then. Bill Pearl was one of ‘em, a multiple winner of the Mr. Universe contest. He just walked in the door one day. We looked at him, then at Gene. Gene was big, but this guy was from another planet. Gene introduced us to Bill as if we were co-owners of the gym. I’ll never forget that day.
Anywho, Gene taught us that true success in anything is only and always the result of keen focus, true dedication, and prodigious effort expended an hour at a time. He said there was nothin’ we couldn’t do, if we looked at it as a process broken into hour long segments. Whether it was bodybuilding, our education, or a career that might take years to build, he convinced us we could do anything, be anything, if we attacked it ruthlessly and just 60 minutes at a time.
Gene never taught me a thing about real estate. Over the years he introduced me to college and pro football players, various bodybuilding champions, and the like. Regardless of who they were, they treated Gene with the ultimate respect. My buddies and I saw how much these guys, some of them who were so very well known, revered Gene Fisher. Still, he was possibly the humblest mentor I’ve had, who’d accomplished more in life before he was 40 than most do in a lifetime. Lord knows how many young lives he directed towards success. Better still, we’ll never know how many lives he likely saved.
When I met him, I’d recently moved to San Diego to be with my father. Didn’t know anyone cuz I’d made the move on the last day of school. Like so many others he mentored, I was a different kid by the time summer was over and my junior year of high school commenced. Over the years I witnessed what Gene referred to as ‘bad actors’ transform under his guidance. I’ve often wondered how many of those kids became successful in life based upon their experience in Fisher’s Gym.
The Quiet Impact of a Mentor
As I’ve often said, nobody deserves the group of mentors with which I’ve been blessed. Gene Fisher’s affect on my outlook on life, and how I view challenges and goals cannot be overstated. He showed me in the gym, an hour at a time, what’s possible. He taught us that remaining calm in scary times is what leadership is about. The lessons he taught those who listened were priceless. Hearing a ‘Not bad, Brown’ from him was worth more than I can say, as he wasn’t a believer in givin’ out trophies for merely participating. You had to earn his respect.
Gene Fisher had a profound affect on two generations. I’m proud to have known him. He was a blessing, and I miss him.
Photo: RS Snaps