AN APOSTLE AND A GENTLEMAN

 Merle Benedict wide

News Flash — As I was putting the finishing touches on this blog post, I received an email from Simon & Schuster, informing me that Tiger Woods has reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. I was so stunned that I was sure I had misread the email. How can this be? Then more congratulatory emails started coming in. It’s true. We really made it to #1. This is a brand new experience for me. I’ve never had a book reach the top of the bestseller list. I’m grateful to my partner Armen Keteyian, my agent Richard Pine, my editor Jofie Ferrari-Adler, our publisher Jon Karp, and my fearless wife Lydia.

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Now, onto the post.

Last week I was in Salt Lake City for a special screening of “Little Pink House” and to give a speech about the behind-the-scenes experiences and observations from writing the Tiger Woods biography. In between I met with two men whom I try to see whenever I pass through Utah. One is an apostle. The other is a retired CEO from the media industry.

Quentin L. Cook is the apostle. Before he got called into the full-time clergy, Cook was a managing partner at a big law firm in San Francisco, as well as a chief executive at California Healthcare System. In his capacity as one of the senior leaders overseeing a worldwide faith with over 16 million-plus members, Cook has had a wide range of responsibilities. One of them was overseeing the church’s public affairs efforts, which is how I originally met him.

Almost a decade ago, right around the time I started writing special features for Sports Illustrated, I was in Salt Lake City to do some journalism workshops for the writers, editors, and producers at Deseret News and KSL TV (the NBC affiliate). Those workshops were the brainchild of Clark Gilbert, a longtime friend who was then the CEO of Deseret News.

Gilbert had also invited my longtime editor at Sports Illustrated, B.J. Schecter, and 60 Minutes correspondent, Armen Keteyian, to join me for the workshops. After the workshops, Gilbert brought me to meet with Elder Cook. At his urging, I invited Keteyian and Schecter to join me.

“It’s not every day you get to meet an apostle,” Keteyian quipped.

“What, exactly, is an apostle?” Schecter asked.

“You should ask him that,” I said.

When we arrived, my editor asked that question. And Elder Cook explained.

There are two things I vividly remember about my initial introduction to Elder Cook. First, he asked the three of us to be honest and candid in assessing how the Church deals with the media. He wanted truth, not sugar. Second, he made us feel so at home and at ease that he left a lasting impression on my friends. That was the start of my friendship with an apostle.

Over the years, my relationship with Elder Cook has deepened. Every time I walk away from his office I feel inspired to be a better human. This past week I brought my younger brother Merle and his 10-year-old son Max along. My brother is a professor at BYU-Idaho and seldom see him. So he came down from Idaho to tag along with me in Utah.

The best part of this was that my nephew got to meet someone that he admires. These are the moments that stick with a child.

Max Benedict

Mark Willes is the retired CEO from the media industry. Mark was the CEO of the Times Mirror Corporation and publisher of the Los Angeles Times back when I got my first byline there in the mid-90s. I had written op-ed piece on violence against women. The thing I noticed early on about Mark was that he loved great stories and important, groundbreaking ideas. He was never afraid of what we might find by turning over a few rocks.

But the most valuable lesson I learned from Mark is the importance of kindness and manners. When he was in charge, he treated his employees as if he worked for them. You learn a lot about a leader by observing how he or she treats the support staff. I’ve seen many instances when Mark treated waitresses, doormen, parking attendants, and secretaries as if they were the most important person in his orbit.

Mark WIllesMark Willes

Kindness and manners aren’t words that are often associated with journalism. Nonetheless, those qualities open doors and endear trust.

The other thing I’ve always loved about Mark is his sense of humor. On bad days or in difficult moments, there is nothing like a leader who says something funny to make you smile and remind you the sun will come up tomorrow.

Over lunch, I gave Mark a copy of the new Tiger Woods biography. And I inscribed it by thanking him for being the man he is. He is one of the most generous donors to the non-profit Institute for Writing and Mass Media at Southern Virginia University. It’s just another way that he quietly goes about trying to help create a new generation of good journalists.

I still can’t believe Tiger Woods is #1!

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Jeff Benedict is a best selling author of 14 books and a television and film producer.  His latest book — QB: My Life Behind the Spiral (written with Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young) was a New York Times bestseller. He is currently writing the biography of Tiger Woods. He is a producer on the forthcoming motion picture “Little Pink House,” starring Oscar-nominated Catherine Keener with music by David Crosby.  To book him for a speech or private event, contact Ellis Trevor at ellis@chartwellspeakers.com

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