Robert Montgomery—My Dad!
In my job as a motivational speaker and inspirational keynote speaker, I like to ask people about those who inspired them as they were moving along life’s pathway—maybe a special teacher, a co-worker, a friend. A lot of people will say that their parents mentored them and inspired them, and I’m no different. One of the people who really inspires me is …. My DAD! So, let’s meet Robert Roy Montgomery— 86 years old and going strong. My dad’s mom, my grandmother Clarice, lived to be 100, so hopefully my dad has a lot of great years left in the tank.
I started by asking him about his childhood, and whether his parents were warm and loving. As a kid, I don’t remember my grandparents being super soft and fuzzy. They were more of the no nonsense, Greatest Generation, stoic types, and I wondered what my dad’s memories of them were. But Dad remembers having a good family when he was little. He says he knew his parents loved him because of how they treated him, maybe not with hugs or overt displays of affection, but with paying attention to him and talking to him. He remembers playing trombone with his mom accompanying him on the piano, while his dad was asleep on the couch after drinking a Manhattan. Then he laughs. My dad has a great sense of humor, and is easy to laugh. It’s one of his best qualities. He remembers his dad taking him to a stock broker and helping him invest his paper route money. That lesson really stuck. He bought four shares of IBM, and that got him started on his lifelong investment habit. At the time Bob (my dad) was a little anxious about putting all of his money in the stock market, but he trusted his dad, and figured he’d get filthy rich. (Not sure he’s filthy rich, but the stock market has been nice to him over the years.)
I remember my grandfather doing the same thing with me—taking me to a broker and helping me invest my savings. And I’ve continued the tradition by encourage my dad to sit down with my kids and help them to invest their nest eggs, which he’s done with all of his grandchildren and he enjoys.
Emotional Support In the Montgomery Family
My dad says his family wasn’t a hugger family. I shook hands with my dad, and I liked that, he says, that was a sign of affection. Bob remembers his mom always being there for him. A nice gal, he says. Very supportive. He remembers his parent’s marriage as being very solid. They washed dishes together and would talk while he and his brother would do homework at the kitchen table. He doesn’t remember any hugging or kissing in front of him from his mom or dad. This is funny to me because Bob Montgomery’s kids (I’m one of them, hahaha) are big huggers. We like to hug each other when we get our families together, and when we’re leaving, times like that. Bob says having huggers was against his wishes; he would prefer to just shake hands. My wife says the hugging thing must have come from my mom, Marty Glass Montgomery. Dad does say hugging is okay now, and he doesn’t mind it, might actually like it. Haha.
My dad is four years older than his younger brother, Alan. He was just far enough ahead of Alan that they really didn’t spend much time together because of going to different schools as they aged. There were years that they rarely saw each other. Alan went into military service after college. They had to get reattached later, he says. But they never really hung out as young adults. Alan’s family lived in Boulder so they really didn’t do much together as young families. But he thinks they have a good relationship now—they talk two or three times a week. They exchange books and ideas and both of them are big birders, so they have that in common. (My dad is a nut about bird watching—he’ll drive thousands of miles to look at an owl or a gull.)
Starting a Family
Dad got married when he was 25. I think my mom was about 23. It’s amazing to me how that marriage worked because they got married so young and barely knew each other. Their first date was July 9, 1959, and they got married December 28, 1959. He said he just knew they would have a good marriage and that they were ready. He was through law school and it seemed like a good time. They chose to have 3 kids, 2 years apart, even though they didn’t really know what they were doing. They always thought they’d have children, they didn’t really talk about that much. I wondered if dad felt that overwhelming love for his children everybody talks about when babies are born. He laughed and said he didn’t think so. It changed his life for sure, and especially changed Marty’s life. Suddenly you have this baby and you don’t know what you’re doing. They read Dr Spock’s book to help them know what to do. But Marty did most of the baby work, like feeding. He was working a lot.
We talked a little bit about my dad going to an east coast college and why he wanted to go so far away. He remembers going to see short movies about Dartmouth and Middlebury colleges one day. The movies showed kids skiing on campus, and that looked great to him. My dad has always loved to ski. He was at an age when he wanted to go far away from his family, and 2000 miles seemed about right. Dartmouth was the only college he applied to. His parents were supportive and had no objections. He remembers his dorm only had one phone for the entire building. You had to use quarters to pay for calls, so he didn’t talk much to his parents. His mom was after him to write letters. She would send him return post-cards with questions on them: do you like your roommates? Are the trees pretty? He could answer yes/no or whatever and then stick them in the mail back to her. He thought that was kind of funny.
Thanksgiving During College
I asked my dad about not going home for Thanksgiving while he was in college, which occurred for Mark and for me. Mark didn’t find a place to have Thanksgiving dinner his first year of college, and they felt bad. But the next year, he was pretty quick about finding a place to go, so he learned something. (I did the same thing too, btw, when I was in college). Bob’s parents came out only once over his 4 year stint of college, and they came for graduation. Bob remembered getting his first two assignments back from his English class filled with red marks. Adjusting to the rigors of college took him a little bit. He was a solid C student, which he was told was a pretty good grade. Grade inflation was not a thing back then, and certainly his parents weren’t going to be calling the school to complain.
Bob did end up getting to ski on campus on the school golf course. And there was a ski hill down the road a bit, too, with a chair lift. But mostly he did a lot of cross-country skiing while he was there. He had wooden cross country skis that needed a complicated wax routine that allowed the skis to dig into the snow for propulsion. Nothing like the fancy skis out there today.
After college Bob didn’t know what to do, so one day he went down to the University of Denver to sign up for law school, which you could do in those days. Turned out he was good at it. He was an English major and always had trouble with symbolism, etc., but with law it was very straight-forward, and made sense to him. Although there were some classes he hated like Tax, Contracts, or Corporations, business stuff. He loved Torts, which was good because he became a defense lawyer for medical malpractice.
Not a Motivational Speaker…. But Still a Performer
Going to trial is a lot like a performance, which is interesting to me being a performer myself. But they don’t teach that to you in law school, you learn that on your own. So he went to the Legal Aid clinic at his school in his last year and was assigned some cases so he could start to see how the law works in real life. It was mostly Landlord/Tenant law and Domestic Relations issues. There were some senior lawyers who oversaw all the law students to make sure they were on the right track. After law school he would go sit in the courtroom to watch how the lawyers tried their cases. When he got some worker’s comp cases, he really learned how to cross examine doctors. Doctors in that day were really revered, so it was hard having to question their methods.
Turns out my grandfather also fed my dad some easy cases from his practice at an insurance company. Then he quit the insurance claims business and came and worked with my dad’s firm. My dad started his own firm with other lawyers he went to law school with, and they stayed together a long time. He says the secret is working together toward common goals and having mutual respect for each other. Plus hashing things out over a bottle of scotch after work really helped! He also credits his success to hiring great people like Debbie Kirk, his long-time paralegal. My dad says she made him really look good.
I remember lots of dinner table conversations about personal injury cases that he had. That was fun for me as a kid, hearing about gruesome details of injuries. Then my dad went into breast implant cases, defending some of the big companies making breast implants. He got into that when he got a case about a woman who lost her hair after some hair dye or something made her hair fall out. But by the time the trial came, all her hair had grown back in. The same company which made the hair stuff, also made breast implants, so they sent him those cases too. My dad worked on implant cases for about 10 years, but it got boring. They never went to trial because they’d always settle after a deposition or two, and that is no fun. The fun stuff is the trial.
The Confidence Not to be a Poser
I remember my dad’s style being very low key. He never wore super expensive clothes or drove expensive cars (with one notable exception in his later years—the giant white Mercedes!). One year he went to the Greenbriar resort for some law thing, which was super stuffy in his recollection. My dad is not stuffy by any means. What you see is what you get—he’s very straight-forward, non-pretentious; he couldn’t abide posers in the law biz.
I think my dad is a good role model because his philosophy is to treat people well and with respect and the rest will follow. And it worked pretty well for him. He was well respected in the legal community and the firm kept his name on the marquee for many years after he retired.
My dad’s style in talking to juries was to be neighborly and folksy, so they would connect with him. His paralegal said he would try to talk to them like he was leaning on the back fence having a chat with his neighbor. He would go to a church and study the preacher’s style to try to learn from them about modulating his voice, moving up and down through a range of volumes and styles. He was super impressed with lawyers who could really control their cross examination and tear up witnesses. In fact, one of his favorite cases he worked on was when he got to cross examine an expert witness who’d “bought” his degrees from a diploma mill in California. He had such a good time questioning the “expert” and exposing him as a fraud. The opposing counsel ended up disavowing his own expert witness, that’s how bad he tore him up. (My dad’s evil chuckle is hilarious.) The judge even sent a note to my dad after the trial telling him he was impressed with the job he did.
I really enjoyed “cross-examining” my dad. I wish I had done it earlier in his life, because his memory is pretty sketchy now that he’s getting on in years. But he’s still got it! You can see why he’d be a good lawyer in the video—he’s kind of intimidating sometimes.
You might be wondering why I didn’t interview my mom and my dad together. My mom died a little over 12 years ago from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease, so she’s no longer around to interview, sadly. So if you ever think you have plenty of time to sit down with your parents just to talk and reminisce, don’t delay. Once they’re gone, they’re gone, so enjoy them while they are here. Cliche I know, but so true.
We get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of our own lives, our careers, raising children, mowing the lawn, fixing dinner, that sometimes we postpone things we really don’t have time to postpone. So take it from me, if the thought crosses your mind that you should interview your parents or your grandparents or your uncle about their lives and memories, get right to it so you don’t miss the chance.
Thanks for listening. Can’t wait to see who’s next!