The LuLac Edition #2096, June 19th, 2012
L. DONALD LINKERI first met L. Donald Linker at the old United Way building on South Main Street. The UW was in the basement of the parking garage and the quarters were pretty tight. I began work as an assistant to the then Communications Director Frank Pasquini and naturally I got there early. As I sat in the lobby, I saw this man approaching me like a missile shot out of a cannon. He stood in front of me and asked, “Are you lost?” and I replied that I was waiting for my new boss to start work in the Communication Department. He then replied, “Well you’re in the right place but I still think you’re lost!” At that he turned on his heels and carrying a stack of papers, he walked down the hall cackling the most authentic joyful laugh I had ever heard. That was the start of an incredible professional workplace friendship that was an education, a mentoring for me as well as wildly entertaining. In a time when social service agencies are being cut to the bone, it is important to remember that in the 60, 70s, and 80s, Don Linker was most likely responsible for helping to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in this community of Wyoming Valley. Now it is true that the area companies, workers, CEOs and major corporations provided the money, but it was Linker through incredible organization and passion that got the solicitation teams together to get that money. He knew the delicate balance of how a community organization worked. He knew the power players, he knew the wannabees and he also knew the rivals. Incredibly he knew where to place each individual where they could do the most good for the community.
The most frantic time in Linker’s life was in the middle of the United Way campaign. United Way had a Loaned Executive program where companies paid a person for the duration of the entire campaign. (Current United Way CEO Bill Jones was a Loaned Executive in the mid 80s). The job of the “LE” was to go out and raise money. Linker trained them for about a day and a half and then said “Go get ‘em”. And they did. Around October 15th of every campaign, just after Columbus Day, Linker would walk around saying “This campaign is going to be a disaster”. Despite financial reports to the contrary, you could never convince him. Until he saw the final totals the night of the victory diner, he was subdued. But when the goal was met, and the volunteers were thanked, he knew he had done some good. A fundraising campaign has to have a General, a coordinator and a Drill Sergeant. Linker was the drill sergeant.
When the United Way office moved to 9 East Market, across from City Hall, Linker had the office all the way down the hall. By that time we had worked together for a few years and had mini conferences in his office. We called them “RCs”. Reality checks. Working in an organization, we both (especially me) saw people say and do things that just kind of made us wonder. As I sat down at his desk, he’d lean over and conspiratorially whisper, (mind you the office door was closed) ‘Did you hear that?” or “Did you believe that guy?” I think it kept me sane and entertained.
Twice we were roommates at United Way staff conferences. Bunking together to save expenses, Linker was the perfect room mate. He was up in the morning and out the door by 6:30AM going to breakfast meetings with United Way cronies from all across the country and was usually in bed by 9pm. He’d always ask, “Did you call you’re wife”? and if I answered and said, “Not yet”, he bellowed from his bed saying, “Do it now because I don’t have time to go to court if she throws you out”. My two favorite places to go with him was Fairfax Virginia (where the United Way of America was headquartered) and New York City. In Virginia there was a restaurant called “Henry Africas”. I usually dined alone because Linker was working the room asking other United Way people in town for the conferences and meetings how they raised more money for their agencies. He’d come back with a little notebook stacked with ideas and numbers and then say “When we get home, type this in a list so I know what the hell those jokers said to me!” I read in the paper today that my friend, and the friend to many in the social service community Don Linker passed away Sunday at the age of 86. I had not seen Don in years but thought about him almost every week when I had a business situation at work or most recently when I tried to understand the logic in Governor Corbett’s cutting of Human Services across the state. While many might whine and complain, I somehow knew that Don Linker might be plotting a way to get more money for those less fortunate to keep those needed services.
A final Linker story. On one of our trips to New York City, I prevailed upon him to go with me to the Carnegie Deli. Linker, not a very big eater was appalled at the size of the sandwiches I ordered for the both of us. Because it was the Carnegie Deli, they were sandwiches and at that time you had to ask for silverware. Staring at the sandwich, he said, “How the hell am I gonna eat this without a knife or fork?” He then started to pester a surly waiter who in typical pre Giuliani style, ignored him. The waiter came over and asked, “What do you want?’ And Don replied, “Silverware”. The guy then retreated back and within minutes at least a dozen pieces of knives, forks and spoons came flying at us (most of them hit me) and the waiter said, “There, ya got enough for a wedding”. At first appalled, he told me, “You know I think he might not like his job, what’dya think?” And within seconds came a booming New York voice of the waiter who yelled, “I like my job just fine there baldy. Better leave a good tip”. Which we did.
During the 80s when I worked at United Way, Don would spend his lunch hours getting his then aging dad lunch. He’d leave the office and drive up to the Heights and try to get his father to eat some food. There were good days and not so good days. Sitting behind his desk, munching on whatever left over his father didn’t eat, he’d say, “Man, I’m going be at the gates of heaven before him the way he’s driving me crazy." Turns out that like all adult children who became caregivers of aging parents, that of course wasn’t the case. But if there are gates of heaven, I’m sure he sailed right through. The lobby of heaven is another matter entirely. Linker is most likely still stuck there, stalled on his way to his final destination. With that out sized personality, genuine kindness and hysterical laugh, he always knew how to work a room.