My Own “Blind Side” Story – but even Better!

I have said that blood is thicker than water, but that you can welcome people into your blood, and you should – meaning the concept of family can be built, structured, and strengthened in the ways you choose, or how life chooses for you.

I started Clayco in 1984 when I was 25 and bought a dilapidated building in a rough neighborhood (Robertson, Missouri) because it was all I could afford at the time. The very first day that I was on site, a 12-year-old black kid approached me and said, “Hey, Mister, can I get a job?”

When I told him he should be in school, he replied that he needed to take care of his family. We made a deal there and then that if he went to school, he could come to the new office, complete his homework, and then work in the shop afterward. It did not take long for him to steal my heart and become the source of some of my greatest love and proudest moments. He would be the glue that would help keep my family together through some of our most difficult periods.

Todd’s million-dollar smile became a staple in our household (along with the fact that he ate everything that wasn’t nailed down). Over the years, our relationship grew deeper, and it was clear that he would have a special influence on all of us at Clayco and at home. Nancy, my right-hand personal assistant at Clayco, had also become a parental figure to Todd. He was easy to love because of his calm, compassionate demeanor and strong work ethic. As an example, as he started getting tall really quickly, I told him he should start running. He ran and ran and ran…we called him Chief Running Dawg.

We agreed that as long as he stayed out of trouble’s way, we would see him through college. Todd was tall, agile, and athletic. One day, 16-year-old Todd towered over me and challenged me to a wrestling match. We went out in front of the building, and I pinned him down in thirty seconds. I think I still can, but he can definitely run faster than me!

I became aware up close of the black experience. As a family, we experienced ignorance, hostility and shunning. I was refused membership in two of the most prestigious country clubs in St Louis because I was told by people that were in the room that members didn’t want their daughters next to Todd at the pool. It made us angry and sometimes sad, but it also made us resilient and committed.

Todd’s integration into my life made me aware of the lack of representation, equity, and overall diversity in crucial sectors and roles, and I have made it my life’s mission to address these social issues. I started with the person in front of me and did all I could to support Todd. I tried to be a guiding voice for him at important moments – like when he signed his University of Missouri at Rolla deal in our home office at Apache Trail and when I tried to urge him to be independent and leave the nest at 25, only to be told by my late wife Ellen that she and the kids were actually voting me out of the house because Todd was a “benefit,” and I apparently was not.

After Todd graduated from college, Ellen was instrumental in a very successful blind-date-turned-engagement, which gracefully introduced Sara into Todd’s life and ours, giving us another perfect family ally. The priceless moments and memories I have with Todd are too many to count. There have been many holiday celebrations, gatherings, and mandatory Sunday night dinners, and it is impossible to express Todd's impact on our lives as a caring brother, devoted son, selfless father, and business leader.

It is also heartwarming to witness Todd’s story of triumph and perseverance come full circle in my grandchildren. I am incredibly grateful to Todd for changing my life, and I look forward to all the wonderful things the future holds for our family and beyond.

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