In Memoriam: My Friend and Mentor, Dick Hammond

Wayne Lee Headshot
On the left, Dick Hammond and I back in the day as instructors at the NOFMA Installation School in Memphis in the late '90s, and (on the right) the last time I saw Dick when I visited him at his home in Michigan after he had surgery for brain cancer.
On the left, Dick Hammond and I back in the day as instructors at the NOFMA Installation School in Memphis in the late '90s, and (on the right) the last time I saw Dick when I visited him at his home in Michigan after he had surgery for brain cancer.

[Editor’s note: Industry veteran (and our longtime friend) Dick Hammond, who retired from Clarke Industries as its director of the Hardwood Floor Division in 2001 after working there for more than 35 years, passed away on Dec. 17 after fighting cancer. His online obituary can be read here. His close friend and mentee Wayne Lee wrote this tribute.]

What can one say about the greatest influence in your life? Thirty-eight years of amazing leadership, devotion, compassion, friendship, knowledge, wisdom, visionary. Dick Hammond took a young kid and provided me with the greatest life journey. My dad once told me, after I was joking about getting my inheritance early, “Son, you have already been given it.” I looked at him in an odd way, and he then said, “Your mother and I gave you birth and a world of opportunity.” I found that opportunity in Dick Hammond.

Twenty-two years old and no clue what was going to come in life … that was me, with the hope that the opportunity Dad talked about would not pass me. When my life crossed the path of Dick, it was like a light came on. He had a way about him that everyone knew he was special. He would do anything to help or support folks. He never felt the need to brag or boast about himself. Dick always did his best to lift folks up, always looking ahead of the need. I started working with him as a service tech for Clarke. In the service world, you are trained to fix the problem and do it in a manner that you are confident it’s done and done right. Dick took it one step beyond just fixing a machine: He wanted to build the relationship with the person who ran the machine. If the person running the machine is putting the confidence in our machine and that machine is going to provide their income, then we better do all we can. Dick once told me, “If they buy our machine, we are feeding their family.” Think about that … providing the means in a machine that someone will provide for their family. How many people think beyond the machine in such a way?

I was blessed to be the person he asked to put on his team. Now, only two people are allowed to call me “boy:” my Daddy and Dick Hammond. I can still hear his voice on the phone, “Boy, you ready to have some fun?” Him joking, saying we are going to make so much dust we can poop a two-by-four. He was right, this boy had fun, and this boy was made into a man under his guidance. Working with him is the only reason my career is where it is today.

We worked side-by-side for years and in my wildest dreams, never would I have had the opportunity to do the things in this life without him. Some of his wisdom: “Boy, you are going to replace me, and the reason is because I am going to make sure you do.” How many would pour so much of themselves on others that they become able to replace them? I take that to heart; he was correct, because if you cannot be replaced, then you will never advance. Dick took me into a business world that would have beaten me—my goodness, was he protective.

The personal side with Dick is when the pages become wet with tears. He would correct me when I messed up, cheer me on when I felt inadequate, push me I needed to be challenged, catch me when I fell and hug me when I was scared. He cried with me when my Mom passed, prayed with me when needed. His love for his family always came first, and he said many times, “You are my Boy.” In those four words, he was saying, “I love you.” It’s hard to lose him, because, like my parents, he developed me into who I am.  When his wife called and said he had cancer, I was silent. The memories of our time together flashed in my mind, then tears rolled down my face. Jean said, “Honey, are you there?” With a cracking voice and a lump in my throat, “Yes, ma’am.” Jean told me, “He had to have an operation to remove some of the tumor off of his brain, and it affected his speech, so he can’t talk on the phone. He wanted you to know and to be sure you understand he does not have long.” “Yes, ma’am…” We hung up and my heart filled with tears.

When I visited Dick, we laughed as we watched old Clarke videos.When I visited Dick, we laughed as we watched old Clarke videos.I had to go see him. Plans were made, and during the long drive, my mind was racing of what to say, how to I express how grateful I am. What can I say or do that makes it clear he is the reason for my success? We watched old videos of the Clarke days. Friends on tape would pop up and he would smile, and we would laugh and shake our heads at some of the stuff we did.

Then, the second hardest day in my life came. The first was telling Mom goodbye, and now, Dick. I hugged him with all I had and told him over and over how much I loved him and how he made my family’s life better. I did not want to let him go. 

I thank God for the gifts in my life, and Dick Hammond was a gift from God. As I stand and look out my window, I will always think of him and will remind myself of the inheritance Dad and Mom gave me—a world that included Dick Hammond. Dick, I will always be your “boy.”

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