Many of us have had a teacher or a special person who has played a large role in our lives. Teachers are usually the ones who know us best. They see us daily, know our talents, our personalities and can see our potential. When the timing is right, a teacher may often say something that can change your life and direction.

Are highly successful people just born than way? Maybe a person, a situation, or an opportunity opens a door. The important things is to recognize that moment and take advantage of it for your life and your future.

Did a teacher or mentor help you become the person you are today? What is the first name that comes into your mind? Have you ever thought of thanking them? It’s never too late to tell them you appreciated their counsel and good advice. A Valentine can come in a card, letter or phone call. Just do it today!

I hope you will enjoy these success stories from some of our fellow Napans. Read them to your children. You might plant a seed to encourage them to listen to their mentor or their teacher’s wise comments.

This column was born on New Year’s Eve when I asked Linda Wolfe, a retired teacher, and reading specialist in Napa: who was the teacher who played a major role in her life? So, her story is first.

Linda Wolfe

“Gene Thomas was the counselor for my class from our seventh-grade year through the 12th at Alhambra High. He even followed those what went on to Contra Costa Junior College. He was a very special man. Most of the college- bound students from my class went to UC Berkeley or San Francisco State. Instead, he advised me to apply to Chico State because he knew that a small college was a better fit for me. For my benefit, he even spoke to teachers on our school staff who had graduated from Chico to confirm that it had an excellent teaching program. I was always grateful for his advice and I wrote to him several times. He never forgot me and always answered my notes.”

Next I asked my husband, Phil, a retired judge of the Superior Court, who now works in the Chief Justice’s Assigned Judges Program.

Honorable Philip A. Champlin

“Two people come to mind. One was Mr. William Johnson, a blind speech and English teacher in my sophomore year of high school. Because of an accident I was still walking with crutches, I could not participate in sports but soon I became popular, as everyone knew my name and voice. This teacher had recognized my deep voice, and soon I was doing all the school announcements over the public address system. Mr. Johnson encouraged me to enter the local Illinois state speech contest, which I won. A few years later, I ran the university radio station at Yale, had my own program and dreamed of a career in radio.

I also remembered that years earlier, the mother of a neighborhood friend, Judge Katherine Lawlor, the first woman appointed to be a circuit judge in Maryland, told me that I should become a lawyer, “because I liked to argue so much.” She may not have meant this as a compliment but I always remembered it and so I decided to go to law school and become a lawyer instead of a radio broadcaster.

So these two adults, a teacher and a judge who encouraged me to go into public speaking and law helped shape my career as a lawyer and judge in Napa.”

I was inspired to go on to ask the following others:

Mike Thompson, U.S. Congressman

“I had so many wonderful teachers throughout my time in school, but one sticks out as having the biggest impact on my life. Mr. Walt Hampy was a social studies teacher of mine, and he constantly encouraged and challenged all of his students to think critically and carefully about the work in front of them. He was always interested in and enthusiastic about public policy and I can’t help thinking his influence was a major part of my own interest in public service.”

Dr. Patricia Wolfe, founder of the Wolfe Center, founder and owner of “Mind Matters,” and a lecturer on neuroscience for educators in 58 countries:

“My high school days were not the happiest of my life. While I loved my subjects and learning, I really yearned to be popular and a cheerleader (which never occurred)! Basically I had a poor self-image and wanted to be someone I wasn’t. My senior literature teacher, Mabel Sheilds, pulled me aside one day and told me what a good mind I had and that my speaking voice was excellent. Her faith in me changed my perception of myself and led to a perfect career in public speaking.”

Dr. Tom Hildreth, principal associate of Napa Valley Urology Associates since 1978, chief of surgery and chief of the medical staff of Queen of the Valley Medical Center, and the Napa County Medical Society Physician of the Year in 2006:

“Dr. Everett Duthoy was a great mentor and teacher in my medical education. He was a quiet man with tremendous patience. He taught me through discussion and actual daily use of his practice philosophy. He stressed the importance of listening skills, humility, dignity, compassion and honesty. He taught me how all of these skills along with the importance of maintaining expertise in the details of medical knowledge and surgical skills for the benefit of people I am privileged to meet and help. He made me realize what a great responsibility it is when people accord me the privilege of access into the most intimate and private aspects of their lives. Following his example has helped me to be a better physician, surgeon, husband, father and grandfather. I am greatly indebted to him for his time, kindness, patience and expertise.”

Dorothy Salmon, former United Airline stewardess, first woman president of the Rotary Club of Napa, 2006 Citizen of the Year in Napa, chairperson of the Pathway Home board of directors and a KVON talk show host:

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“The teacher who influenced my life the most was Mrs. Clark, my 5th grade teacher. She encouraged me to be whoever I wanted to be, to stand up and entertain the entire elementary school on stage at lunch time. She told me to never give up and always believe I could succeed in life as long as I was funny and could make people laugh. She followed me through many years of my life, long past the fifth grade.”

Honorable W. Scott Snowden, retired judge of the Napa Superior Court, and mediator and arbitrator with JAMS, (Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services, Inc.)

“When my family came to St. Helena in the 1950s we met Captain and Mrs. Frances Styles at Church. My grandfathers had both passed by the time I was 11, and Captain Styles occupied the place they might have. Many of the happiest times of my youth were spent with the Styles. He was my teacher in many ways. He taught me to shoot a rifle and to take and develop photographs; he urged the importance of reading, from Epictetus to Louis L’Amour; and he taught important lessons of life, to exercise daily for health, go to church weekly for reverence and to stand while putting your socks on for balance.

If I have learned anything about the love of the wild, about the beauty of nature, about honesty and dignity in human interactions, and about resilience, courage and redemption, then I think that the example and the teaching of Captain Cassius Styles must be central. Failures and shortcomings, they are my own.”

Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, attorney and former executive director of the State Bar of California

“When I was a student at the University of Michigan School of Law, I didn’t have robust relationships at the Law School, but I had a Contracts teacher, Professor Robert Harris, who ‘had been watching out for me.’

“The law schools were not rolling out the welcome mat for women during those days in the 1960s, and one male classmate accused me of coming to law school only to look for a husband or to get my ‘M.R.S. degree.’ As it turned out later, he was right — I did find my husband in law school, but I was not amused and things got worse when I was turned down for every position to which I applied simply because I was a woman. Professor Harris was very supportive and solved the problem when he helped me obtain a Reginald Heber Smith Fellowship. With that opportunity, it was possible to start my legal career as a lawyer, not as a research assistant or file clerk.

“One of my 2018 New Year’s Resolutions is reaching out to this student (himself now a professor) to let him know the impact of his off-the-cuff remark in a way that forgives and forgets. However, I might also include my recent resume, in the note just for him to take notice of this student he accused of ‘only looking’ for her M.R.S. degree. If he reads carefully, he’ll see what a varied and exciting career became possible for me once I became a lawyer.”

Dianne Dillon, attorney, member Napa County Board of Supervisors

“I went to college and then to graduate school to get a masters degree in library science. Then I had to work hard to pay for my education. I had thought about a legal career by it seemed daunting to incur three more years of debt to go to law school. So I started working as a librarian for a large Century City law firm in Southern California. One of the attorneys at the firm, David Slavitt, urged me to take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). I decided to take his advice and scored well enough that it encouraged me to apply to law school and go on to a career in law as a lawyer.

“I owe my career in the law and in public service to the encouragement of David Slavitt. He mentored me and encouraged me to continue my education and get my law degree.”