Recovery Friendly Workplace investigator shares personal story about why program is critical

THE LEATHER JACKET: Dr. Doug Swanson, an extension field specialist with Labor and workforce development who also serves as co-principal investigator for Recovery Friendly Workplaces Missouri, recently shared a very personal story about why recovery-friendly workplaces are critical while wearing his dad’s old leather jacket – a jacket that is imperfect, but still does its job. – Construction Forum photo

PreventEd, an agency working toward a community free of alcohol and other drug addiction, misuse and related problems, recently became the latest Missouri workplace to become designated as a Recovery Friendly Workplace under a program developed by the University of Missouri Extension.

“We are really happy to celebrate not only PreventEd becoming recognized as a Recovery Friendly Workplace, we are also celebrating one of our own’s success,” PreventEd’s Deputy Executive Director Jenny Armbruster said during a May 5 ceremony. “Today we are honored to join Gerald, his family and his friends in celebrating his 20th anniversary of sobriety. It is the staff like Gerald that create the successes PreventEd achieves.”

Following Armbuster’s welcome, Dr. Doug Swanson, an extension field specialist with Labor and workforce development who also serves as co-principal investigator for Recovery Friendly Workplace Missouri, shared a very personal story about why recovery-friendly workplaces are critical. He approached the podium wearing an old leather jacket. Here is what he shared:

“Gerald, congratulations and thank you for letting us share your celebration. Twenty years, wow. That is an accomplishment. We lost my father a little over a year ago. He was just a few months short of 30 years sober when he passed. I am sure he would have enjoyed being here today to hear your stories and to share a few of his own. Most importantly to provide hope for others, that they too can achieve what you and he did.

“In a way, my father is here today. What do you think of my jacket? It was my father’s. He had this old leather sport coat for nearly 40 years. The leather has a few cracks in it. A few stains. The lining is a bit frayed, but then, isn’t it a lot like us? Like most of us, this jacket isn’t perfect, but it still does its job.

“See, my father was the best salesman I ever knew. He taught me more, by watching him, about how to deal with people then any professor ever could. After selling the insurance agency that he founded, he went to work selling cars, ending up working for a friend who owned several new and used automobile dealerships.

“In time his friend, Bub, said ‘Swany, I think you have a drinking problem.’ Dad said he would quit, just that easily, and he probably could have. Bub said, no. ‘I’ll send you to a 28-day program, keep you on the insurance and hold your job. If afterward, if you still want to work for me your desk will be right where you left it.’

“Dad did, and Bub did. Of course, the story did not stop there.”

“After returning to his old desk dad continued selling cars, just as Bub promised. In time Bub would ask dad to mentor new or struggling salespersons. That would lead to dad being tasked with covering the new car sales manager’s desk, or the used car desk at the flagship dealership.

“That led to him going to other dealerships to troubleshoot problem areas or cover operations that needed a little TLC to get back to operating smoothly, always returning to his desk at the main dealership.

“One day Bub said ‘Swany, we are wasting your talent here, I want you to take over the general manager’s job at the Ford dealership. That’s where dad stayed until his friend Bub was killed in a car accident. Even then, he stayed on for a couple of years to help the family while they downsized their operations.

“Bub’s commitment to my dad 30 years ago was not social engineering. Yes, it was heartfelt and, in this case, born out of friendship. Yet Bub also saw that like this jacket, dad had a few blemishes, but could still do his job.

“The cost of holding dad’s job was repaid many times over through the work dad did troubleshooting and managing different aspects of the operations. That’s what being Recovery Friendly means. Seeing the potential benefits, a second chance can provide.

“Our family enjoyed another 30 years of dad’s second life, his sober life. He mentored me and my siblings, welcomed more (many more) grandchildren going on to mentor them, even greeting and showering some great grandchildren with his attention. As one of dad’s favorite’s, Paul Harvey, used to say, that’s not the rest of the story.

“It wasn’t just our family that was impacted. His hobby and passion would lead to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), and led to him starting, or restarting meetings in several small towns near where he lived. It was not uncommon for dad to attend five or six meetings, even sometimes meetings every day of the week, to help keep those early meetings going.

“Responding to a comment made at one of those meetings, he dug into the red tape, and eventually started, or restarted, AA meetings in I believe five county jails, a state prison, and a federal prison. Would any of this been possible if he had not had the stability of a job?

“Like this jacket, we are all imperfect, yet have great value and can still do our job. My involvement with the Recovery Friendly Workplace Missouri initiative is not because of my dad. It is because I have seen the dividends paid back to communities and employers when workers stumble yet get a second chance.

“Gerald, I am proud of you and humbled to be in your presence on this special day. I am sure my father is smiling down on you in congratulations as well.”

For information on how to become a Recovery Friendly Workplace, contact Swanson at or Ann McCauley at

(Information provided by the Construction Forum.)

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