It’s a rare occasion in life when we encounter someone outside our family that makes such an influence on us that we feel a tremendous loss upon their death. In 1984 I was approached by a headhunter with a great opportunity with M&T Bank.
I had 20 years experience, was content in my job and was not looking for another one. However, I decided nothing ventured, nothing gained.
At the interview I was kept waiting for an hour. The employees left, but the receptionist assured me on her way out that I would be seen shortly. A half-hour later and not having seen another person, I was standing at the elevator to leave when a voice called out to me to please stay.
I followed this small, unassuming man back to his office, where we talked and then he reached into his trash can, pulled out a wrinkled sheet of paper, straightened it out and handed it to me asking me to type it.
I stood and told him that it was an insult to keep someone with 20 years experience waiting that long and then ask them to prove she could type. He replied it was to see if I could read his handwriting (which I soon realized was more like scribbling), so I decided to play his game and typed it.
I came away from that interview thinking there was no way I would work for this man, and turned down the call back. However, a few days later when the third call came I went and ended up taking a job working for a man who would change my life more than I would ever realize.
I’m not saying it was all good – Bob Wilmers was a demanding boss and knew how to push you to your limit. But he helped you grow at the same time. I learned he had only been in his position for a year, but had big ideas and dreams for M&T Bank as well as the Buffalo community. Over the next 22 years I watched this humble, unassuming man grow into a respected resource for Buffalo and build a small community bank into a powerhouse. I watched him become involved in almost every area and organization in the Buffalo community and always help it improve. He gave unselfishly of his time and money and encouraged his employees to become involved in the community.
I watched him privately help many students fulfill their dream of attending college and become valuable citizens because he felt they shouldn’t be denied the opportunity because of lack of money. I watched as politicians and businessmen came to his office asking his advice and for his help. I realized then that although he was demanding, he didn’t ask his employees to do anything that he didn’t demand of himself.
He was like the energizer bunny, working long hours but occasionally taking time to play squash, tennis or ride his bike. He worked tirelessly to make the lives of his employees and the Buffalo community better. He was a tough boss with a heart of gold.
When I told him it was time to retire, he convinced me that if I worked two more years, we would retire together, so I agreed. Two years later he repeated this line, but I turned him down because my husband and I wanted to travel and we weren’t getting any younger.
Eleven years have passed, but we talked, visited and wrote often and he still tried to convince me to come back. I learned so much from this man and have the utmost respect for him; but most of all he taught me that we all have an opportunity to make a difference in the world and to make it a better place.
You did that, Bob Wilmers. You impacted many lives and made M&T and the Buffalo community incrementally better because you decided to come here. Thank you!