Wilson "Syke" Dansey (pronounced like Psych) looks seventy-five years old, and has done so for the more than ten years that I have known him. He is a distinguished older gentlemen who was always dressed impeccably, yet always with a youthful flare - a striped tie on a striped shirt, or bright bow tie with matching pocket square. I always imagined Syke hailing from England, although his accent is unmistakably Richmond. I met Syke when a college friend took me to the Richmond outpost of a Virginia-owned clothing store while we were still in school. At that time the nature of the game was anything that went with stained khakis and a navy blazer and could be worn to a dance or football game. Since then I have had the fortune to buy a lot of my clothing from Syke. On the times I was wayward and visited other clothiers, I would think: "well, Syke's service would be better, but a deals a deal." Besides helping me fit a suit or pick out a tie, I am not sure I have even given much thought to the impact this venerable clothing salesman had on my life. A bittersweet reunion this week gave me pause to stop and consider just how impactful the people pass in and out of our lives can be.
I lost my tux shirt, or as I have since deduced, left it somewhere in Ireland... I think...maybe. Regardless, it and I parted ways and I needed something for a formal event last weekend. So on a warm evening last week I rolled the windows down and enjoyed the slow drive to the one place in town I was guaranteed to find some helpful advice. Syke was there, but rather than a daring pinstripe-meets-polkadot combination, he was looking rather "civilian". It turns out that in this economy people are buying less clothing and even my old friends were not immune. We chatted and caught up. One of their other wonderfully attentive team members was as helpful as I could have asked; even pausing to remember the name to a face that had not visited the store in almost a year. But as soon as I started looking for a fun bow tie to go with the tux shirt, it was Syke that jumped to the cause. He responded as thought a retired Army officer might salute out of habit. Its in his blood; its not customer service, its doing what he loves to do, help people.
Almost five years to the month since I had worn that tux for the first time, I looked up and said "you know Syke, you sold me my tux for my wedding". His response, "I know, but does it still fit?" his rye quip did not go unnoticed. I paid and hit the road and began to think about correlation between Syke and important events in my life.
Just before I graduated from college it became apparent that I needed something nice to interview in. I was (and still do enjoy) taking advice from my father, who came to look at the suit. His remarked: "I dont know why anyone would want a solid black suit, but the fit is perfect!". Syke had fixed the break above the chest and the roll in the neck. Six months later I accepted my first job wearing that suit. Syke helped me select the dark conservative outfit for my grandmother's funeral. I have sharp memories of deflecting grief over the concern about attire; a symbolic way of postponing saying goodbye. A few years, a few jobs and a few suits later, Syke helped pick the tuxedos for all of my groomsmen. We all showed up one evening, just about closing time for the fittings. My old friend took one look at our crew and ducked into the back of the store. He emerged a few moments later with two fists full of icy cold beers and a cheshire grin.
This is not a story with a sad ending. It is a story with an ending that has yet to be written. Syke Dansey will land on his feet. Beacroft & Bull still has the most attentive and professional staff that I know of. But there is a message here and it does not have to apply to healthcare or food, but life in general. There are people who will impact our lives without us even knowing. Sometimes its that waiter in a restaurant who made the meal memorable with out us even realizing. Its the nurse that brought the extra pillow at exactly the right time. Maybe if we all take a few moments to remember the people that we know briefly but that have a huge impact, then we can think about the fleeting interactions we have with others and how we might change their lives.