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“Give People Their Flowers BEFORE They Die”

I gained one of my most valuable life philosophies during one of the first church services I attended in Nashville.  In 1990, one of my INROADS students invited me to attend a worship service at the church where her father was the pastor. As her father was preaching with great intensity, a woman in one of the pews slowly stood up, interrupted his sermon and said: “Pastor, I agree with everything you’re saying. We ought to give people their flowers before they die!”

All the sudden, I realized why my student had invited me to church that day. The woman’s comment not only changed my perspective, it changed my life. Her comment inspired me to focus on the power and benefits of telling people how I feel about them while they’re alive rather than at their funeral when they couldn’t receive it.

For the past 30 years I have tried to give flowers to people in every area of my life. In the section below, I give flowers to SOME of the people who have been significant in my journey.  This is a partial list of the many, many people whose grace, support, and encouragement has prepared and propelled me to fulfill my calling.

I encourage you to develop a G.P.T.F. list and start thanking each person today if you haven’t already done so.



My Grandmother, Grace Young: She was strong and no-nonsense, and she was loving and funny. She convinced me that I was special and that I was destined to do great things. I owe my wisdom and discernment to her.


My Mother, Jennie Young: The greatest person of all time! My mother is the personification of discipline, steadiness, commitment, excellence, love, and great decision-making. I owe all that I am and have to her!


My Uncle, Clinton Young, Jr.: His impeccable appearance, awareness of current events, excellent communication, and attention to his mother (my Granny), served as my primary model for manhood.


My Dad, Felton Johnson: Though I did not grow up with my dad, our relationship in my adult years revealed the leadership qualities I inherited from him as a 35-year employee with St. Louis metro bus service and an MP in the Air Force.


Shirley Whittaker: My godmother and middle namesake who has prayed for me and prayed for everything that is important to me since the day I was born.


Mary Lou Pearson: My favorite teacher of all time who demanded excellence in a fun and entertaining way.


Phelan Thomas: My youth swimming coach who transformed me and my neighborhood buddies into a powerful, championship team.


Paul Owens: My high school principal who changed the racial tone of our school and demonstrated a belief in me that inspired me to grow.


Fr. Paul Stark: The coolest priest in the history of America who sat in for this single-parent kid at the Father/Son dinner. How about that…’Father as Father’!


Tony Edwards and Mark Schaeffer: My two best high school friends who often helped me in ways I couldn’t help myself.


Dave Hillard: The Camp Wyman Director who showed me what good leadership looks like.




Rob Partee and Reggie Scott: My high school and college big brothers who modeled and expected greatness for and from me.


Dr. Weslyn Martin and Dr. Bill Ryan: Gave me my first communications job and my first communications training.


Biz Greene and the Career Center staff: My “mothers away from home” who shaped my career skills and ensured I had the best interview opportunities.



The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City: My first employer after college!


Paula Cassity, Bonnie Ruwart, and Jack Wray: My audit team members who embraced me and helped me every step of the way as a new internal auditor for the Fed.


Regina Davis and Trudie Hall: Here is an actual GPTF entry on them from 2012:

GPTF 2/26/12: Regina Davis and Trudie Hall were (and still are) model women. As friends to every person who appreciated fun and faithfulness, they were the glue that held a group of us together at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in the mid 80’s. They showed us how to be as strong as individuals as we were as a team. They showed us how to love your children and how to look beyond the negative elements of your work life to ensure you could continue to provide for your children. They showed us how to really enjoy life—the aspects you could control and the aspects you wished you could control. They showed us how to keep enhancing your skills and maintain the right humility with your leadership and peers. They showed us how to keep seeking God’s grace and direction. And nearly thirty years later, they’re still doing it for the people they work with!



Allyson Young: My wife, best friend, and business partner who is the most wonderful person I know. She has been a loving and wonderful influence on me, our four children, and everyone she meets.


Kelly, Mary, and Anna Parker (now Anna Walker):  My wife’s parents and sister who immediately moved far beyond in-laws to become my second set of parents and the little sister I always wanted. Their love, support, and wisdom blesses me and my family every day.


My pastors and assistant pastors, Bishop Horace and Elder Kiwanis Hockett and Elder Harold and Sister Marion Hockett: Great models and mentors in every aspect of life and living.


Mercedes Lytle and Pat Merritt: The women who chose me to join INROADS/Nashville and thereby positioned me for a series of personal and professional blessings for which I will forever be grateful.


Reginald Dickson and Charles Story: Great INROADS role models for business excellence, personal integrity, and humble leadership.


Joe Calloway: My first mentor for public speaking and a friend for nearly 30 years.


Cal Turner, Jr. and Bob Carpenter: The two men who did the most for deepening my understanding of leadership, giving me opportunities to grow, and changing my family’s financial future at Dollar General.


Ron Corbin and Darrell Freeman: They gave me the opportunity to reposition myself and reinvigorate The 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee after a major career surprise.


Norm Hill, Don Turner, and Cy Taylor: They selected and partnered with me to transform Cracker Barrel and lead the company through a challenging phase in its history.


Pat Weiland, David Hart, Jimmy Bivens, and Julie Perry: My partners and friends from TRICOR, who have allowed me to help them help inmates ‘change for good’.


Dr. Wendy Thompson: My friend in the goal to help Tennessee Board of Regents leaders expand their capacity.


Commissioner Deborah Story, Commissioner Rebecca Hunter, and Dr. Trish Holliday: Leaders of the Tennessee Department of Human Resources who leveraged my love for the State and my consulting support to transform how State leaders perform.



Agenia Clark: My great friend and collaborator on many community endeavors from INROADS to Girl Scouts, who has supported my initiatives for three decades.


Pam Byrd and Leslie Greenhill: Caring and committed women who allowed me to grow as a leader as we transformed March of Dimes in Nashville and across Tennessee.


Joey Hatch: A great leader who became a corporate sponsor, a client, a fellow board member, an employer of my children, and most importantly, my good friend.


Alan Valentine: A phenomenal leader (with the most amazing blend of left brain and right brain dominance I have ever seen) who empowered me to help the Nashville Symphony and the Nashville community.


Dr. Bob Fisher, Dr. Susan West, and David Mee: Great supporters of a wide array of my personal and community initiatives for all sorts of young people attending Belmont University and numerous schools around the city.