Tag Archives: Mentor

We gotta help this kid!

The bearer hereof, mr Smith, is the son of Gen. Smith of Baltimore … who wishes to qualify himself to be useful to his country hereafter, will visit Paris, and will wish to derive from the visit, all the useful information he can acquire … my own desire to aid the laudable views of our young men … & knowing your particular sense of the importance of a right direction in youth … I take the liberty of presenting him to you … he will prove himself not unworthy of your attentions.
To Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours, July 29, 1809

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise old leaders continue to mentor potential young ones.
Du Pont (1739-1817) was a French intellectual who became Jefferson’s friend during his diplomatic service in Paris. Du Pont emigrated to America in 1800 to escape the guillotine.

Both men recognized the importance of educating gifted young men whose place in life positioned them for “the care of the liberties & interests of their country.” The son of Jefferson’s old friend, Gen. Smith, was such a prodigy, and Jefferson wrote a reference letter, asking Du Pont to introduce him as widely as possible.

The editor’s footnotes to this letter, found in the link above, translate two Latin sentences Jefferson used to conclude this letter: “You and your family and your possessions are all the objects of my closest care, and shall be while I live. Good-bye” and “take care that you fare well, and love me as you are loved”. I’ve edited thousands of Jefferson’s letters in the five years of this blog. I don’t recall ever seeing so personal a benediction.

One of Du Pont’s sons, trained as a chemist, founded a gunpowder manufacturing company in Delaware in 1802. We know the resulting multinational conglomerate today as DuPont.

“The President was outstanding!”
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What qualities make a good mentor?

[I] then went to Wm. and Mary college, to wit in the spring of 1760, where I continued 2. years. It was my great good fortune, and what probably fixed the destinies of my life that Dr. Wm. Small of Scotland was then professor of Mathematics, a man profound in most of the useful branches of science, with a happy talent of communication, correct and gentlemanly manners, & an enlarged & liberal mind. He, most happily for me, became soon attached to me & made me his daily companion when not engaged in the school; and from his conversation I got my first views of the expansion of science & of the system of things in which we are placed.
Autobiography, 1821*

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders-to-be need skilled mentors.
Jefferson was almost 17 when he continued his education in college at Williamsburg. He came into the orbit of Dr. William Small, the only faculty member who was not an Anglican clergyman. Because of upheaval within the school, Small became Jefferson’s only professor, teaching all of his classes.

Sixty years later, Jefferson would cite the qualities that made Small extraordinary:

  1. “Profound,” which Webster’s 7th New Collegiate defines as “intellectual depth and insight”
  2. Devoted to the “useful branches of science,” wisdom relevant to everyday life
  3. “a happy talent for communication,” an engaging and effective classroom teacher
  4. “correct and gentlemanly manners,” proper and polite
  5. “an enlarged and liberal mind,” willing to consider all the possibilities
  6. “made me his daily companion,” taking young Jefferson under his wing
  7. “from his conversation,” verbal interaction with a high purpose

I’ve begun re-reading Jefferson’s Autobiography. I may take posts from it for some time.

*This link is to the entire autobiography. To find this passage, open the link, type Ctrl F (for find) and type several words from the text into the box. Those words will be highlighted wherever they appear within the work.
“Patrick Lee was reliable and easy to work with.
He made modifications in his presentation to suit our particular needs.”
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Both Thomas Jefferson and I are dependable, low maintenance
and eager to please!
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What’s a (lost) teenager to do?

When I recollect that at 14 years of age, the whole care and direction of my self was thrown on my self entirely, without a relation or friend qualified to advise or guide me, and recollect the various sorts of bad company with which I associated from time to time, I am astonished I did not turn off with some of them, and become as worthless to society as they were. I had the good fortune to become acquainted very early with some characters of very high standing, and to feel the incessant wish that I could even become what they were. Under temptations and difficulties, I could ask myself what would …[they] …  do in this situation? What course in it will ensure me their approbation [approval]?
To Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Nov. 24, 1808

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders-in-making need wise older counselors.
Jefferson wrote encouragement and guidance to his 18 year old grandson studying in Philadelphia. Jeff, as he was known, was far from his family and their protective influences.
Here, Jefferson referenced his own experience when his father died in 1757. At age 14, he felt all alone. (This evidences his lack of a close relationship with his mother. She still lived, yet he wrote he was, “without a relation or friend qualified to advise or guide me.”)
Jefferson acknowledged some bad companions as a half-orphaned teenager and expressed his surprise he didn’t turn out like them. The temporarily lost young man was rescued from his own foolishness by the care and direction of a few older and wiser men. Through their influence, Jefferson’s desire was to become like them, instead of his wayward acquaintances. When he struggled, he would ask himself, “What would they do? What response of mine would gain their approval?”

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Are you too old to teach?

A part of my occupation, and by no means the least pleasing, is the direction of the studies of such young men as ask it. They place themselves in the neighboring village [Charlottesville], and have the use of my library and counsel, and make a part of my society. In advising the course of their reading, I endeavor to keep their attention fixed on the main objects of all science, the freedom and happiness of man. So that coming to bear a share in the councils and government of their country, they will ever keep in view the sole objects of all legitimate government …
To Thaddeus Koscuisko, February 26, 1810

Koch & Peden’s Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, P. 352

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Retired leaders can continue to mentor leaders-to-be.
A portion of this letter to the Polish-born soldier who had served America’s revolution was devoted to the nation’s defenses in the face of increasing British offenses on the high seas. Some detailed his post-retirement activities at age 66, no doubt to be the subject of another post or two. The portion excerpted here deals with one of those activities, one he found most satisfying.
To young men who would move nearby, Jefferson offered his library and advice, and welcomed them into the circle of his friends. He fully expected these protégés to become involved in government. He wanted them well-grounded in “the sole objects of all legitimate government.” That would include “the freedom and happiness of man.”

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 Executive Director, Wyoming School Boards Association
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