One of my very best buddies at work was Dan Owczar, Sr.
He had been a peer of mine back in the late 80s after the NY Bank went from a Regional alignment (Brooklyn/Long Island/Staten Island, Queens/Bronx, Lower Manhattan & Upper Manhattan) to a functional organization (Operations, Retail Banking, Marketing).
I represented the Operations Division as the One Bank Practices Manager while Dan was my counterpart in the Retail Bank.
I remember one meeting we had with Hank Dalpiaz & a couple of his henchmen (Hank was a very unique individual with a pretty caustic style…just wasn’t my cup of tea as he often tried to intimidate & bully his way through stuff. That crap just makes my horns come out!).
Hank was in charge of the CBC/Citicard Banking Center (ATMs) Reconcilement Unit. They handled various functions regarding the branches’ ATMS (handling deposits, replenishing cash, coordinating repairs, etc.).
The problem was that in the “old Regional” structure, this unit was part of the Retail Bank, except in Bklyn/SI where it resided in Operations.
Operations “functionally transferred” the Unit over to the Retail Bank, but Hank believed that he was getting rooked & wasn’t receiving all the manpower & budget that he deserved.
Operations contended that the unit in question was able to “ book saves” (realize processing efficiencies) before the transfer was effected.
To resolve the issue, Dan & I scheduled a meeting @ 330 Madison Ave to iron out any issues & reach an agreement.
Dan & I arrived at the meeting early so we simply sat next to each other on one side of the oval conference table. I believe it was the first time I met Dan in person. (Years later, I would actually discover that we had indeed met years earlier!)
Anyway, in walks Hank with his 2 sidekicks. They sat opposite Dan & me on the other side of the table.
After a couple of minutes of laying out the situation for everyone, Hank gets up & says to Dan, “Why are you sitting on their side of the table & not with us?”
Dan was taken aback by Hank’s question (accusation?). I mean, it was just the 5 of us & there was no special significance as to where we sat. And I was the only one representing Ops.
We weren’t choosing up sides!
“Hank, sit down! We’re trying to get this issue resolved & you bring up something stupid like that. No one’s taking sides here!”
I immediately knew that I liked Dan.
We finished what we came to do (Ops won! Ha! Ha!) & were just wrapping up the meeting. Hank & his guys simply stormed out of the room.
I thanked Dan for his professionalism & for “coming to my defense”, though I told Dan that if Hank opened his mouth again like that, I was gonna give him a taste of good ol’ Brooklyn that he wouldn’t enjoy.
A few years later, after the USCC pulled the rug out from under me regarding a promise they made to move me to San Antonio as a Senior CitiPhone Director, Bill Pastore, Head of National Operations (including the USCC) assured me that I could still get down to San Antonio by joining the Tax Shelter Center (later, renamed Retirement Plan Services ), the business responsible for managing customer IRAs & Keogh accounts.
I would become the Operations Director for a few months in NY, then help to migrate the business down to the USCC in San Antonio in October of 1993.
Interestingly enough, the Director of Tax Shelter was Dan! He became my boss & also relocated to San Antonio.
He was a great boss to work for as he was truly devoted to the business & the customers, was an incredibly-hard worker (a very under-appreciated quality in bosses, but not by me) & a really good person.
We also became very good friends during this time as we worked together very closely.
Oh, remember when I mentioned previously that I actually had met Dan several years before I thought I met him for that first time at the meeting with Hank Dalpiaz?
Well, when we were in San Antonio, Laurie & I were going thru a box of old photos that we had moved with us from NY.
We found several photos from a special trip for award winners that we had taken several years earlier in NY.
We went on an extended 4-day weekend to Barbados with 49 other Citibankers & their spouses/guests. We fondly recalled the great time we had, especially when we went on the Jolly Roger Cruise Ship one afternoon. It was a “pirate ship” with a complete crew and they had a bunch of fun things to do for us.
Then I picked up one particular photo…and I was absolutely astounded!
There was Laurie & I sitting in the rear, er, stern of the Jolly Roger…and on one side of us was Dan Owczar & his wife, Kathleen and on our other side sat Larry Holstein & his wife, Gladys!!!
BTW, Larry was the Compliance Officer for the Tax Shelter Center, moved down into the same San Antonio subdivision as us & became (along with Gladys) great friends with me & Laurie!
I had never met them before the trip to Barbados & apparently, didn’t remember them from the trip after I joined Tax Shelter!
We all had a great laugh when I showed the others that photograph (actually, 2 of them).
Back to our story…
I worked for Dan for 15 months before I was requested by John McEachern, USCC President, to take over the CitiPhone Control Desk.
As luck would have it, I eventually became the Director of Micrographics, a sister unit to the Investigations area that had just migrated to the USCC from NY.
And Dan became the Investigations Director! We became peers again as we worked together on a number of different initiatives. We also reported to the same boss, first, John Anello, then later, John Golio.
It was great being in the same group as Dan as our working & personal relationship grew stronger.
Back when we were together in Tax Shelter, I threw a 25th (30th?) Anniversary with Citi party for Dan at our home. It was a wonderful event as so many of the people from Tax Shelter were able to attend.
Dan & Kathleen also came to a Super Bowl party at our home just a few months after we all relocated from NY.
They had a great time at each party & were so appreciative of our hospitality.
After a little more than 2 years as Micrographics Director, I was (yet again asked) to take on a new assignment, representing the USCC on a number of very high-profile projects.
As you can see, I always seemed to have Dan in & out of my professional life, either as a trusted peer or as my boss. And even when I moved over to CitiPhone as a Director, I still worked closely with Dan & his Investigations Unit on do many different things.
I’d often just pop into Dan’s office over in Bldg I in the evening after many of the senior managers had long left for the day. Dan & I both were devout workaholics so it wasn’t unusual for us to be burning the midnight oil.
When Laurie passed, Dan & Kathleen were there at her viewing service…on the evening of 9-11.
That meant a lot to me.
A few years later, I got some terrible news that Dan was admitted into the hospital after trying to return to work from a vacation overseas.
I went to visit him that very same evening & he seemed to be in pretty good spirits, as was Kathleen.
We’d often joke (when Laurie was still alive) that we should swap wives. I was a voracious eater while Laurie rarely cooked. I’d do a lot of BBQing (or, rather grilling) and I would either bring home dinner or we would eat out.
On the other hand, Kathleen was a gourmet chef, but Dan ate the same Sesame Chicken for lunch (for several years!!!) and often preferred peanut butter & jelly sandwiches at night.
Dan returned to work for a few months & everything seemed OK. I noticed a slight change in his demeanor, but I couldn’t specifically put my finger on it.
Several months later, Dan was hospitalized yet again. But this time, Kathleen let it be known that she would NOT allow anyone to visit Dan in the hospital. No exceptions.
I feared the worst.
When I called the hospital, they transferred me straight to his room…and Kathleen answered.
We cried on the phone as she told me that they found an inoperable tumor in Dan’s brain.
She also told me that she wanted me to come up to the hospital to visit with him.
I was honored (I know that it sounds “weird” to actually say something like that, but please understand).
When I went up to his private room, I was shocked.
He didn’t know who I was. Kathleen would continually tell him, “Mike is here to see you, Dan!”, but he would either mumble the same thing over & over or just look out the window.
I was devastated, but I tried my very best to maintain my composure.
It was hard. Very hard.
I’d talk to him about stuff at work, perhaps thinking that it would trigger an old memory of his. But he couldn’t answer me & would just keep repeating the same question to Kathleen every few minutes. I sat with him for a couple of hours, pouring out my heart to him & Kathleen.
I tried to steer the topics to great memories in the past, including out trip to Barbados at least 15 or so years earlier.
When I got ready to leave as Dan was getting very tired, I gave Kathleen a long hug…and we both broke down, crying uncontrollably.
This whole scene reminded me of Laurie’s past couple of months of her life when she really didn’t realize anything that was going on. I was home with her 24 x 7 as hospice visited for just a couple of hours, a few times a week.
She was still physically there, but her mind wasn’t.
And it was the same way with Dan.
When I kissed him & said good-bye, I knew it would be the last time I would see him alive.
A few days later, Dan passed.
A viewing service was held at a local funeral home, attended by hundreds of people.
When the priest arrived to recite some prayers, everyone got a seat, but so many of us were left standing. There were people everywhere.
After prayers were concluded, the priest asked if anyone wanted to get up & say a few words about Dan.
I didn’t think that I was able.
Then, Kathleen (who was sitting in the front row) stood up & turned around.
She found me right away in the crowd & said, “Mike, I’m sure Dan would appreciate you saying a few words about him. You know that I would.”
I didn’t know what to do, but I would never let Kathleen down.
As I walked to the front of the room, I tried to think of what to say. It seemed that my head was completely empty.
I gave Kathleen a hug & whispered, “I’ll try my best.”
I stepped up to the Mike & just started talking. How I felt about Dan. About him & his stupid school bag he always carried around with him. About how much I loved him. About his damned Sesame Chicken lunches. About how very different we were.
If there was a wall in our way, Dan would analyze the situation, perhaps form a task force to involve his people & then build some type of ladder system so everyone could get over safely.
I would just take a running start & try to smash my way through.
But we were always on the very same page when it came to our customers, our employees, our standards & ethics, and what we always strove for.
We just took different paths to reach the same destination.
I wound up speaking for about 20 minutes…and I probably could’ve gone on forever.
I had no idea what came over me or how I was able to even speak coherently.
But I’m glad that I was able to do that for my great friend.
I still often think about him, to this day.
Thank you so much for listening!