Death of a Salesman and Xylophonist


Back in the mid 1950’s my father was a professional salesman. He taught me that Sales was all about being competitive, caring and competent. These attributes helped him be very prosperous over the years.

As a good Christian, my father believed that helping others was not only a noble goal, but a responsibility of everyone. With his guidance, I began helping others as a Cub Scout. Doing good deeds quickly turned competitive. The Cub Scout’s award bronze, silver and gold arrows for various activities that support their mission and receiving arrows was like winning the Olympics for me. Winning these arrows became THE competition for me. At first, my goal was to win more than Tommy Teachout and then it shifted to literally fill my shirt with the little arrows. Dad taught me to believe that competition was good and healthy. Just as long as winning didn’t come at the expense of another.

Dad and me in Yellowstone!

As a good father, my dad believed helping others was one of the best attributes a salesman could have. Like my father, I have been a salesman all my life. At a very young age Dad taught me that selling wasn’t about persuading and convincing, but about truly caring for your customer. He always said that if you offer the customer something they need, they will buy it. He also believed that true salesmanship helps the customer understand that they need what you are selling. Dad truly believed that, bottom-line, if they REALLY don’t need what you are selling, care enough to walk away. (But keep them in the Rolodex)

As a leader, my dad believed helping others grow and improve was a critical component of good leadership. Not unlike the young sales people that worked for my father, when we were young, we kids were expected to continuously improve in everything we did. Be it on the athletic field, in the church choir, or our given professions. We always needed to improve.

As a young man, my first commission sales job was selling shoes. I recall one time early on, when I complained about needing to take so long to locate shoes in the confused and cramped “Backroom” that it was hurting my sales. Dad simply told me not to worry about trying to change the system, but to focus on learning the system and deal with it. I did and in no time I was earning more than the full-time employees in only 20 hours per week.

My dad loved music.

He played the Xylophone in church and sang in the choir nearly every Sunday until just a short time ago. His competitiveness came out in everything he did. He wanted to be the best father, husband, salesman and Xylophonist. And, as I recall…he was. Of course, now that I think about it, I never actually knew any other Xylophonists.

Don’t get me wrong. He wasn’t great just because he was competitive, but because he truly cared. He cared deeply about his children, his clients and the congregation.

Finally, Dad was a role model when it came to having and maintaining a high level of competence in everything we did. He not only expected us to continuously improve, but he did it as well. I recall one Saturday evening when I wanted to go out, but dad couldn’t take me because he was practicing the Xylophone for the next day’s service. Now keep in mind, I had heard him flawlessly rehearse that same song what seemed like hundreds of times. He knew that his perfect practice would result in a perfect performance. On the other hand, I just wanted him to take me someplace where I could continuously improve my relationship with my friends (girlfriend) I’m sure. That Sunday morning, as I watched the congregation enjoying my father’s music, I realized just how important competence was in maintaining highly effective levels of performance. Not just in music, but in everything we do.

My father passed away at 5:26PM today 5-26-09.

As I reflect on his life from my perspective and what he meant to me, I am grateful to have learned how to nurture a healthy level of competitiveness, a deep sense of caring and an appreciation for competence in every aspect of my life. Dad has often expressed how proud he was of his children and grandchildren. He was also very proud when I left Corporate America to embark in a business of helping others improve their performance and their lives. In fact, he left a voice mail message for me just a couple of weeks ago telling me how proud he was of me and all the kids. I saved that message, but I can’t listen to it right now. Oh, but I will!

In closing, one element I often use in my presentations is to challenge the audience members to think of only one word that they would want on their gravestone. One word that describes who they are, who they were or what they did. Just a few of weeks ago, when Dad was still alert, I asked him what his one word would be. My competitive, competent and caring father said his word is…


Thanks for always believing in me Dad!

Love, your competitive, competent and caring Son…TJ

Leave a comment


  1. Marliyn Suttle

     /  May 26, 2009

    I certainly can see that you learned much from your father – who was obviously a great great man. He taught you how to walk your talk and you do it so well TJ. Thank you for sharing this. What a great role model he was for you, and now you are being a role model for your family, your clients, and your audiences. I’ll hold your family in my prayers as you honor the passing of someone so special who obviously made a difference in the lives of many (and through your words – continues his message on.)

  2. Sharon Foster

     /  May 27, 2009

    What a wonderful tribute to your dad, Terry! His example and influence has obviously impacted more than one generation of Wisners! Not to mention all those other folks who were lucky enough to cross paths with him. My thoughts and prayers are with you and the rest of the family.

  3. skutss

     /  May 27, 2009


    First, I offer my sincere and heart felt condolences to you and your family. Secondly, it is quite obvious to not just myself; but, I’m sure everybody who has had the privelage to become acquainted with you that the apple obviously did not fall far from the tree.

    Again, our prayers and thoughts are with you and your family. If you need anything, even just a bit of conversation, you know how to contact me.

  4. Terry,
    The love you have for your father shines in this beautiful memorial to him written from the heart and with the love of a son who exemplifies his father’s highest values and lessons. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    We may not have known your father personally, but we know him now through you, and it is an honor and a privilege to see him through your eyes.

    I will spend the day today thinking about the one word I would like to be remembered by and focus my thoughts, actions and words to make that one word come alive. In this way, your father has touched me as well, and will live on in yet another heart and mind as a beautiful ripple in this endless river of life. All my love, Cheri

  5. Soupy7

     /  May 28, 2009

    It is always sad when we lose someone who we love and care about.With such great memories, it will help you move forward on your day to day activities.

    Too few people can say (at any age) that their parent would call and say that they are proud of them. I think it means even more when they are elderly and still say it.

    It sounds like he was an achiever, an encourager, a confident AND a friend. You were lucky person to have had him as a role model. I’m sure he will be missed by many. Thanks for sharing your memory of him.

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