The Movie Diary
April 7, 2016

Gone but not forgotten…

By Dom Cioffi

I’ve worked with a lot of different personalities in my life. Some have been positive, some negative. Some have been helpful, some helpless. Some I have really enjoyed, others I have loathed.

I realized a long time ago that you’re never going to have the perfect working environment. Jobs are dynamic and so are people so it’s impossible to maintain even the most sound workplace scenario.

However, if the person at the top has the right combination of passion, work ethic and people skills, more often than not, employees will follow suit and healthy environments can be established and maintained for long stretches.

I’ve been lucky in that I have worked for several great employers over my career. They’ve each provided me with important tools that I’ve incorporated into my own management style. However, one man in particular has stood out, but not in a way that any business school would ever teach.

Many years ago, I was hired to do marketing and outreach for PEGTV, one of Vermont’s most high-profile public access television stations. The executive director was Michael Valentine. I had heard his name locally for many years and even recognized his face when we first met, but otherwise he was a mystery to me.

I knew immediately that Mike was a different kind of manager. During the interview process, he peppered me with as many jokes as he did questions. I walked into that first meeting curious about the job; I left wanting it very badly.

Over time I came to realize that Mike’s management style was the definition of unorthodox. Whereas some managers create a workplace environment through speeches or an intimidating demeanor, Mike quite literally set the tone through music.

It was not uncommon for him to stroll about the building belting out “Old Man River” in his deep baritone voice or whistling a show tune from some obscure theatrical production. Initially, I found his performances humorous, but gradually they just became the comfortable background noise you grew accustomed to.

Mike also loved to put people on the spot. One of his favorite social “experiments” was to corner an unsuspecting employee or station visitor and instantly act like they were on a game show. In his best announcer’s voice, he would challenge the person to guess heads or tails and then flip a coin, throwing in a bevy of theatrics to make the event seem more momentous than it actually was.

Nothing tickled Mike more than when the individual followed suit by acting like a giddy contestant. The beauty was in Mike’s ability to coax a performance out of someone who was wholeheartedly uncomfortable with performing.

Mike’s own acting prowess would emerge whenever anyone rolled through the front doors of the station. He loved to greet visitors as they arrived and took great pleasure in engaging them with happy conversations or disarming any fears they may have had about appearing on television.

Mike also had a certain peacefulness that became evident once you got to know him well. This wasn’t a peacefulness obtained through yoga or quiet meditation, but rather an inner calm from having weathered a life filled with its fair share of struggles. Mike didn’t divulge much about his past, but there were painful periods that he eluded to now and again—and because of those, he seemed to have learned how to travel lighter in life.

Mr. Valentine started out as my boss, but over time he became much more of a friend. And unfortunately, my friend (and a friend to so many others) lost his battle with an illness and recently passed away.

I’m not sure what heaven is or if it even exists, but if it does, I’m quite sure Michael Valentine is up there right now whistling Dixie and entertaining angels with his antics.

This week’s feature, “Miracles from Heaven,” is the true story of a 10-year-old girl who actually claimed to have visited heaven and upon her return was apparently cured of a life-long and highly debilitating disease. People are obviously skeptical about the girl’s grandiose visions, but when doctors confirm the complete remission of her disease, the word “miracle” starts getting thrown around.

Chalk this one up as yet another high-profile Christian release looking for mass appeal. This movie was tastefully produced, but I would have appreciated a little more depth inside the scientific realm instead of the solely faith-based rational that is offered.

Honestly, this is a niche film for those with a Christian spiritual slant. I wasn’t offended by the story, but I honestly found the whole undertaking a bit preachy for my tastes.

A heavenly “C” for “Miracles from Heaven.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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