Lee Zimmerman is a nice guy who didn’t finish last (column)
Mountain mom musings
Twice last week, at two separate events, I was on my feet to applaud and thank a man who certainly has made his mark on Summit County. Typically one to shun fanfare, the farewells to Lee Zimmerman as he moves on after serving eight years as the Summit Foundation’s executive director are peppered with references to his humility, his capacity to listen, his compassion and his generosity. Basically, he is one nice guy. Rest assured however that Lee did not finish last. In fact, he’s far from finished, I’m certain, but is just moving on from one chapter to the next, and we wish him well.
In addition to guiding the Summit Foundation through some stormy seas during the recession and helping identify initiatives that have impacted literally hundreds of lives, Lee also leaves us with a more subtle lesson. He personifies why nice guys can do just about everything, finishing included, best.
Thinking about his legacy made me ponder several things, including the origin of the old maxim that nice guys finish last. According to my handy Wikipedia, the phrase is attributed to Leo Durocher, the colorful manager of the New York Giants baseball team. The quote was paraphrased from a 1946 interview in which Durocher pointed out that the “nice guys” on the Dodgers baseball team, the Giants’ bitter rivals, were knocking on the cellar of the National League. While Durocher initially didn’t make the statement quite so bluntly, he did little to play down the sentiment. He later explained, “I never did say that you can’t be a nice guy and win. I said that if I was playing third base and my mother rounded third with the winning run, I’d trip her up.” Not sure what his mom would make of that.
The sports context, the rivalry and the unique personality don’t really translate when the phrase is relied upon today, sometimes to justify less than pleasant behavior. Durocher, who died in 1991, later made it clear he did not condone being “mean” as the alternative, but rather that he relished the players who were unfailingly relentless. Kindness and humility, however, are not mutually exclusive from being passionate, fierce even. Lee has been unfailingly relentless in finding ways to “improve the quality of life for residents and guests of Summit County and Neighboring Communities.” After all, it’s the mission statement of the Summit Foundation, and what has driven him for the last eight years.
In 2014, the foundation celebrated its 30th anniversary, and as if to punctuate the point gave away nearly $2 million in grants and scholarships. Sure, lots has changed in Summit since 1984, the year the first Apple computer was released; but like Apple, the generosity of the community has been on an upward trajectory, with nearly $21 million reinvested in Summit over the last 30-plus years. Led by local ski areas that donate hundreds of ski passes that generate nearly $1 million in revenue for the foundation annually, the sum is staggering, something that Summit should be proud of. It is nice — really nice.
Molly Griffith, who heads up the Pre-Collegiate Development Program at Summit High, recalled at one event Lee’s insight about why the program works. He shared with her that, “One of the most important things that we have done is to create a common culture for these students through shared experiences. This has given students the expectation that they can and will succeed in education.”
The vision of a shared culture of success — winning, that is — has translated into the many aspects of our community touched by Lee, and the foundation. Thanks, Lee, for showing us that nice guys finish best, and for inspiring a whole lot of folks along the way.
Cindy Bargell is an attorney and mom who lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters. She welcomes your comments at Cindy@visanibargell.com.
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