Sometimes life's greatest lessons are taught by example.

The assignment for this first article of the new millennium is to write about my own personal hero. During my life and throughout my successful construction career, I have "looked up to" many people in many different fields. Some I know personally, such as Arnold Palmer in sports, my wife Joan in my great family and my late brother-in-law, Joe Rudy. Others I know through the history books, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt in politics and many greats in the scientific world. Naturally there are many more, but my assignment is to focus on one person who is not a relative, but has had a major influence on my life and career.

That one person with the greatest impact has to be Bill Cuthbertson, who lives in Lakewood, N.Y. I've known Bill since 1955, and in all these years of unfailing friendship he has never once told me what I should or should not do, or criticized me if I made the wrong choice. From the beginning, Bill has accepted me just as I am. He was and is a living example of what I wanted to be:

A Man's Man

Bill is hard working, physically strong and very intelligent. He is a talented licensed plumber and pipefitter, but he also knows all about the other construction trades. He is a truly gifted craftsman who was "born to build." He can do or fix anything! He built his own home on Lake Chautauqua performing all of the skilled crafts. He also willingly helped his relatives and friends build and repair their homes.

Bill was a ladies man. By that I mean girls were attracted to him and he seemed to say all the right things. He is also one of those "few good men" the U.S. Marines brag about. A hard-drinking man and a good card player, he enjoys the respect and companionship of our jobsite workforce.

Bill is a kind, generous, caring family man. I admire his close relationship with all of his relatives.

Bill knows all about the world and what makes it work, as well as what is off the track and why.

Bill is a true jock. He was exceptionally good at golf, bowling, baseball, football, basketball and any sport he decided to play.

Bill knows more about hunting and fishing than anyone I've ever known in my entire lifetime.

Bill is from the "old school," where a man is only as good as his word. When Bill tells you something, you can take it to the bank, because it is a fact. He has always been dependable and trustworthy.

Above all else, Bill is a good friend in every sense of the word.

All of this may sound astounding and unbelievable to some, but it should make it easy for anyone to understand why I chose Bill Cuthbertson as my hero.

A Little History

Bill and I first met in April 1955 at a jobsite meeting in Punxsutawney, Pa. (Yes, the home of the famous groundhog.) We were building a new high school, and I was the general superintendent. Bill was superintendent for Sans Corp. in Jamestown, N.Y., and was in charge of installing the mechanical systems.

Our friendship got off to a rough start. Bill was about 120 miles away from his union local in New York, so he checked in with the business agent in the Punxsutawney local. The business agent and I had some problems on a previous school project two years before that. He gave Bill his side of the story along with a warning about what kind of an SOB that I was to work with - hardly a good first impression.

My negative first impression of Bill came firsthand. Sans Corp. sent its trailer and a truckload of tools and materials to our site the next day after our meeting. I offered to lend a couple of my laborers to help Bill, but he had already arranged for three pipefitters from the union hall. The four of them were completely finished with the trailers before noon and left the job to go to lunch. One of his fitters told me the next morning that their "lunch" lasted until 10 that night. They visited every barroom in Punxsutawney - twice! You can imagine what kind of impression that made on me. This guy is an alcoholic running a job 120 miles away from his company! I was sure we were in for some major headaches.

I was wrong. It did not take long for me or those three local pipefitters to find out their fun was over on that very first day. Bill called it "orientation," an opportunity to get to know each other. Now it was time to get down to business, and that is exactly what they did. We finished that high school project six months ahead of schedule, and Bill's work was finished and punched out a couple of months before that.

Bill and I worked side by side for more than a year on that project. We gained respect for each other's work and became friends. I watched how he organized his work, his tools, his equipment, his manpower and even his paperwork. He prefabbed everything possible and stayed out in front of the other trades throughout the job. He helped everyone on the project and reinforced my values for what we called "horsetrading." As I said, he never once told me what I should or should not do. He taught by example. I was extremely fortunate to have that one-year opportunity to watch an expert in action.

Bill told me how he savored his apprenticeship years working with his Uncle Rollie, who truly was his mentor. My Green & Gold "godfather" programs - in which inexperienced "green" employees get valuable counsel from mentors who are experts in the field -stem from that productive relationship.

Bill showed me how effectively a good union member could also be a loyal companyman and superintendent. He used the union rulebook to ensure a positive relationship with both sides. He believed in discipline, and all of his employees knew it. This was especially true with safety.

I admired Bill's ability to socialize with his employees after working hours and still maintain his authority as their boss on the jobsite.

I'm sure most of you, like myself, have heard all of those cautionary tales about being buddies with your workers; Bill showed me that this could not only be fun, but could actually improve working relationships.

While Bill and I were both living away from home in groundhog town, we hunted and fished together. We both joined the Punxsutawney Country Club and played golf together. We went bowling and barhopping, even though I did not drink. Bill also came to visit my home 60 miles away, and I likewise visited his home in Jamestown, N.Y. All of my family - including the horses, my dog and even my cat - loved being with Bill. Bill and I both agreed at the end of that project that we wanted to stay in touch - and we have done that ever since, even though I moved to Florida in 1972.

Throughout the years, I've taken my family and many friends many times to Lake Chautauqua, where we stay at Bill's home and hunt, fish and socialize. Both Bill and his wife Pauline are always gracious hosts, who make us feel right at home.

I have always been proud to be in Bill's company regardless of where we went or what we were doing. He is always polite, respectful and a true gentleman. He is just as comfortable rubbing elbows with the very rich and sophisticated as he is with any of the poor or hard working class. Bill always listens intently when anyone talks, and people listen when Bill has something to say.

Bill has absolutely no prejudice or jealousy. He judges each person he meets by how they work and how they act. Who you are or where you came from doesn't matter to him. He has always gone out of his way to help anyone regardless of the situation or circumstances.

Possibly what I enjoy most about Bill is his positive attitude about people and life. Bill never complains about anyone or anything.

Regardless of what happens or doesn't happen, Bill takes it in stride with a determined smile on his face. Before retiring, Bill enjoyed his job every day. Although he might be struggling with a major problem or challenge, he always has that smile. When I revised our company policy during that year in Punxsutawney, I added a stipulation that supervisors should smile. This was a direct result of my association with Bill.

He gives 100 percent effort to everything he does. He works hard, he plays hard, he studies hard and learns everything that h can. A mutual friend once remarked, "When Bill walks into a room the room gets smaller." I added, "It also gets a lot brighter!"

Now, I'm not saying that Bill is not a human being or that he doesn't have any faults. It's just that during the 44 years I've known, worked and played with him I've never discovered any. I am very grateful that PM has provided me this opportunity to tell all of you about my hero. I will always be proud to call Bill Cuthbertson my best friend.