Every organization needs a Roger Vitrano

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Every creative, risk-taking entrepreneur with big dreams needs a solid, organized, nose-to-the-grindstone person who will build a sturdy framework to make those dreams a reality.

That is a good description of my friend, Roger Vitrano.

When I met Roger he had just been hired to work in the financial aid office of the university we were attending. In those days students had to walk around campus and stand in long lines at registration. By the time they reached our office, the students were hot, tired and impatient.

Roger had to meet with students whose Pell grants had problems. Telling one student after another that they have incomplete paperwork for a grant is a tough job. But with just a little training behind him Roger was an efficient and calming presence in the office. Within days he was known as the go-to guy for students with financial aid problems.

After college Roger’s career progressed as I expected — in jobs that had him doing all the detailed, analytic work — the planning and organizing that was needed to make things happen. Roger was one of the unsung heroes that exist in most workplaces. He worked quietly, carefully and calmly to clean up problems others created and he did it without complaint.

I am sure he was appreciated, but how often do we make a fuss over the steady workhorse? Roger wasn’t the person with the big idea who gets all the notice. But without Roger — and people like Roger — those big ideas don’t move much beyond the idea stage.

Roger was a workman with high standards and solid ethics. He was one of those people who are the backbone of the business. He got things done and he lifted the spirits of the people he worked with each day. He knew the name of everyone he came into contact with regularly. If he saw a person who looked like they needed a kind word he would stop and chat or share a joke. He had a wonderful, deep belly laugh that would make people stop what they were doing and smile.

There are a lot of people like Roger. Over my career I have sought them out and tried to make sure they received the pay and recognition they deserved. They take the time to help new employees. They clean out the break room fridge when no one else will do it. They stop and get the tools and equipment cleaned and organized at the end of the day or sort through a mess of paperwork to solve a problem that has been passed around the office.

And too often we take them for granted.

This past Labor Day my friend Roger passed away in northern California. The last time I saw him, his multiple sclerosis, which had confined him to a wheelchair, had advanced. He needed a lot of care and help to get through the day. But he didn’t complain.

His laugh had become shallow but his eyes twinkled as we talked and remembered the many college nights when a small group of us would play a cutthroat came of Acquire. It was a complex game and we were a very competitive group of friends.

Roger usually took the role of banker. He was the only one of us we all trusted. The other reason he was made the banker was that while the rest of us played to win and win big, Roger didn’t like to see anyone losing badly. He would help out the weakest player rather than increase his own chances of winning.

Those Wednesday night games went on for two years and were a good predictor of how we would behave as we pursued our careers. Some were thoughtful and strategic, others were opportunistic.

And Roger continued to be the most trusted man in the room who helped others win the game.

Virginia Detweiler, based in Walla Walla, provides human resource services and management training to businesses in southeastern Washington with her firm HR Partner on Call. Her columns are written as a service to employers and employees and rely on reader questions and comments for topical material. Contact her by email at hrpartneroncall@gmail.com or phone at 509-529-1910. Because of job and employer sensitivities, care is taken to protect identities.

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