11/23/16

Many decades ago, Greg Rye was a young college graduate with a dream of wearing a badge and carrying a gun. He imagined a life in law enforcement, be it with the FBI, Secret Service or a local police force.

He got a job as a part-time community service officer but it was short lived. On August 31, 1982, a deadly shooting occurred in the quiet community of Wayzata, Minnesota. Greg’s sergeant was killed on his 36th birthday when he responded to a domestic disturbance. Two others were wounded. The terror ended when the shooter killed himself.

Greg was deeply traumatized. He began to impute one bad actor’s behavior to others who were undeserving. Engulfed in depression and sadness he sank into “an emotional gutter.” He abandoned his career before it even got traction. And he lost his way.

He had no network to fall back on. But something unexpected happened. One after another, people entered his life and lifted him out of his sea of misery. Men and women walked with him, unlocking doors to their most prized possessions: their relationships. They saw something in him he didn’t recognize in himself.

The Chicago native became involved in politics, business, civic affairs, and philanthropy. His reputation grew – and so did his ego. His principal concern was what Greg Rye could do for Greg Rye.

For a time he delighted in seeing his name and photo in print. Then he had an epiphany. Most of the people he didn’t like were like him: selfish and egotistical. He didn’t want to be idolized in the community where so many had given him so much.

He shifted gears. Instead of just belonging to Rotary he began living its motto of service above self. In his marriage he discovered he could be committed to someone other than himself.

I met Greg in October 2015 at a breast cancer awareness breakfast. After he read my memoir, Bitter or Better, he bought dozens of copies to give to people “who needed” the messages it offers. He’s become a great ambassador and supporter. I’ve become one of many grateful friends.

Earlier this month Greg spoke at the same country club where we’d met. This time he was sharing his story before a packed audience, pulling back the curtain to reveal his foibles and challenges. He admitted that for years he had let both his ego and his drinking get out of control.

One by one he acknowledged the people who had helped him to make different choices – to give up drinking and to focus more on others and less on himself. For the better part of an hour he expressed thanks and gratitude to the people who had led him to a better life.

He shared lesson after lesson he gleaned from his buddies. All his stories were enveloped in gratitude. They’ve taught him about the value of faith, family and philanthropy; the majesty of the outdoors; the joy of raising golden retrievers; and the gratification of being a servant leader.

He spoke of embracing differences, citing his marriage. His wife is a Democrat, he is a Republican. Lisa is a member of the teachers’ union; he’s a former school board member. He is a Lutheran, she’s a Catholic. But it works.

Throughout 2016 Greg has focused on paying back and paying it forward. Drawing upon an enormous contact list (he has more than 4,000 connections on LinkedIn) he has hosted monthly social functions in which he brings together random men and women from his network. When guests leave one of his events they may have a dozen new people in their lives.

He’s collaborated with restaurants whose businesses he wants to support. The proprietors host a meal or a happy hour and Greg brings in fresh faces, new customers. The guests meet and mingle. Greg stands back to watch. “There’s nothing better than looking across a restaurant and seeing two people you introduced sharing a meal or a cup of coffee,” he says.

Greg beams with pride as he explains he has no expectations or agendas, though he does have a plan. His goal is to give away all his relationships in his lifetime. “If you don’t, they die with you. So you might as well give them away while you can.”