I was once a young man, in a land far away. Well, about two miles from where I sit today. Methodist Hospital hired me as a Computer Operator three weeks before my first child was born. Actually, Larry Koch hired me – he was the Computer Operations Manager. His boss was John Mullinax. John was recruited by Warren Hinton because Medicare was changing the financial landscape of health care. A skilled professional in finance was required to navigate the rising tide of health care reimbursement. Mr. Mullinax was the navigator. I knew none of this at the time. This was just an opportunity to feed my young family.
The computer programmers and management worked eight to four-thirty, Monday to Friday. The computer ran almost 24/7, as they say. I was an evening Computer Operator – I worked the 3 to 11:30 shift. Mr. Mullinax frequented the Computer Operations Center because it was central to his financial strategy. At the time we had an IBM 370 Model 145. The climate controlled room was generally pristine – no dust particles to contaminate the data. Larry introduced me to Mr. Mullinax one day – he was polite but seemed preoccupied with the weight of rapid change.
I was a casual acquaintance of my boss’s boss.
People who know me understand that I am compelled to practical joking. Two years ago I had a genetic test done, looking for potential diseases of the aging – they found a predisposition to sarcasm, wit, humor, practical jokes, impatience, and intolerance – but thankfully there were no signs of physical danger. I shall likely be a pain-in-the-rear for another twenty-five to thirty years.
One day, after I had been at my new job for about three months, most of the office staff went home as usual at 4:30. Larry Koch was generally a good sport about practical jokes – so he was an occasional target. At 5:30, one day, I found myself sitting at Larry’s desk. I had taken his telephone receiver apart and was trying to exchange the ear and mouth pieces. Apparently this had been done previously in the history of AT&T because the receiver was now engineered with molded plastic stops to prevent the exchange of the two parts. Undaunted, I was carving the plastic away with a pocket knife. Practical jokes sometimes require thoughtfulness and determination. As I was carving away a shadow filled the door to the office. I looked up and there was Mr. Mullinax. He had a look of disbelief. There I was in my coat and tie, destroying hospital property.
My heart sank. I had visions of holding my newborn daughter in the line at the food kitchen, secure in the knowledge that the Salvation Army was holding my bed for the night. Mr, Mullinax simply asked, “What are you doing?”. There is an old axiom, “When in doubt, tell the truth”. With a quaking voice I managed to explain my intent – certain that I could not justify the means. He sighed and shook his head with what appeared to me to be complete and total disdain.
Mr. Mullinax walked around the desk and stood over me. “Give me the pocket knife,” he said with cold calculation. I handed him the knife and he pulled up a side chair, took the receiver from me, and began carving. It took the two of us about twenty minutes to complete the task.
People like John Mullinax and Larry Koch built the foundation of what is now Mosaic Life Care. They did so with forceful determination, grit, intellect, and a healthy sense of not taking themselves too seriously.
I hope they are well and find another chuckle at this simple remembrance.