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Many mentors pave path to success for Newmarket history buff (5 photos)

In this week's Remember This, Newmarket History Hound Richard MacLeod gives a shout out to his 'counsellors' and 'cheerleaders'

Exceptional mentorship has served to nurture my love of history, creating a relationship which, on the surface, may not be immediately apparent.

By definition a mentor is “an experienced and trusted advisor.” While technically true, this fails to fully explain the true relationship between the mentor and mentee. In this article, I will attempt to detail how my love for our local history has manifested itself through the mentorship I have been privileged to enjoy over the years.

In my experience, the true value of mentorship is not necessarily about telling someone what to do. Instead, it is about playing a multitude of roles, all directly tied to the ultimate goal of achieving one's goals, experiencing self discovery, and identifying where one fits into the community around them  — in essence becoming a history hound.  

I shall share my path to my lifelong love of our local history and honour those who have played a huge part in this actualization.

Sometimes being a mentor means sharing personal, acquired knowledge, while other times it means being a support system. Let us look at what I believe are the key roles that are important to the success of the mentor-mentee relationship.

The first role is that of counsellor, listening and guiding without giving away all the answers or initiating all the steps. Although it can be much easier for a mentor to simply point out all the steps and provide all the facts, there are often valuable lessons for mentees in establishing their own methodology, making their own discoveries and, along the way, making their own mistakes. 

An effective mentor will reflect upon his or her own experiences to determine when the historical journey is more insightful than the eventual outcome. In these instances, a mentor must play the role of counsellor, providing guidance rather than all the answers, a guide if you will, enabling the mentee to figure out the right course of action.

I have been blessed to have had numerous “counsellors” along the way, starting with some excellent teachers and professors, along with community icons such as Terry Carter, Paul Millard, Wes Playter, and Athol Hart, to name but a few. The primary mentors in my life were my family, my grandmother and grandfather, my mom and, of course, my uncle, George Luesby.

An effective mentor is responsible for sharing his own insights acquired through years of experience, something my Uncle George freely did. It must have been a challenge for him at first.  

He was more experienced in areas that I was not, and time and time again, his insights saved me both time and resources in figuring out a problem. This freed me to focus on the issues and objectives important to me. 

I am sure that it was tempting for my uncle to revert from a role of counsellor to instructor but he always, no matter what, remained my guide, inspiring my sense of self discovery. 

At what point should a mentor step in and drive the process? The answer is certainly not 100 per cent clear, but I believe it depends a great deal on the mentee’s learning style and appetite for self discovery. 

Some mentees need hands-on experience to fully understand historical trends and concepts, while others prefer theoretical explanations. I always enjoyed rolling up my sleeves and immersing myself in the subject with a firm, guiding hand keeping me on point.

For example, I discovered early in my historical journey of discovery that I was able to define what I wanted to know, which was everything. I relied on family and particularly my Uncle George to provide organizational knowledge about research techniques and potential source destinations. 

But when I was preparing for my early heritage presentations, I often found myself struggling with answering potential questions from the audience. Rather than writing a script for me, my mentors gave me an outline of what format my answers should take, and I practised constructing my answers within the structure.

After practising on my own, I was able to answer the questions calmly and comprehensively that I received from my audience.

 By navigating the situation individually, I not only uncovered answer to my immediate problems but also learned lifelong skills that still serve me today. My mentors are all still with me today as I prepare for my heritage walks, presentations, articles or just my Facebook posts.

They all seemed to understand how I learned, whether it was by working through it myself, being shown how to do it or by reading about it. They understood when they needed to step in and when they needed to step back and let me muddle through on my own.

The second vital role of a mentor is one of cheerleader. In addition to all the constructive feedback and advice, mentors should also provide support and enthusiasm. 

Conducting historical research and presentations on your findings can often present ups and downs, and it can be encouraging to know your mentor is rooting for you. Mentors should help celebrate a mentee’s successes  —  no matter how big or small.

Along with my family, I have been most fortunate to have enjoyed the support of several cheerleaders in my life.  To varying degrees, Terry Carter, Paul Millard, Wes Playter and Athol Harte, to name but a few, have served in that capacity. 

No one has been more influential in the last three or four years in the expansion of my heritage endeavors than Jack West. No matter where I am presenting, conducting a walking tour, or filming an oral history interview, or writing an article, I always enjoy his presence, support, encouragement and advice and, quite frequently, pitching in himself to help out the cause, as he has done so often with the oral history program. 

We all experience down times, moments of doubt about what we are doing, what we are achieving. The support of others, often behind the scenes, is vital to any success one may achieve.  

An element with which I still struggle is the need to be open and honest about what I need and expect from my mentor, but I am getting better with time. 

To all those who have mentored me over the years, whether it be in business or with my local history passion, I thank you from the bottom of my heart and please know you are appreciated

Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years. He writes a weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Newmarket Today, conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, and leads local oral history interviews.