A Salute to Two Special Dads

June 16, 2016
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller
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In almost 80 countries around the world this Sunday, Father’s Day will be celebrated.

St. Louis, MO (USA) team members Chris Fraser and Ross McKenzie are among the many dads throughout our organization who will be honored by their families. For both of them, however, I suspect this Father’s Day will be particularly poignant.

In December, Chris’ two-year-old daughter Lexi was diagnosed with cancer; two months earlier in October, Ross’ seven-year-old son Kai had received a cancer diagnosis too.

Since then, both Chris and Ross have been astounded by the outpouring of love and support each of their families have received from across Barry-Wehmiller. But that’s not surprising. That’s what happens when you foster a work environment where family comes first and care is the main commodity.

Chris, Barry-Wehmiller’s C3 help desk team leader, said he sensed that when he chose Barry-Wehmiller over three other job offers two years ago. “I took a pay cut to work for Barry-Wehmiller but it was the right decision.” He knew it when he drove into the parking garage and passed the sign that reads: “Imagine a world where people care for others first.”

When he and his wife Ashley received the gut-wrenching news that Lexi had clear cell sarcoma, a rare type of cancer reported fewer than five times a year in the US, the care from his Barry-Wehmiller family was immediate.

“I remember it being very surreal. Doctors and surgeons began talking to us about the disease and its treatments,” Chris shared, “but none of it registered. I kept thinking ‘How will we manage all this? In addition to Lexi, we had a baby son, two careers, two dogs and a mortgage? What if I couldn’t work?’”

The plain and simple answer came quickly from his IT team leaders who assured him that no work, no job, no career is more important than family. They told Chris to take off as much time as he needed to help Lexi get well as his job would be there when he returned.

And that was just the beginning. To offset the family’s mounting medical bills, they received a grant from Barry-Wehmiller’s Hearts to Hands Relief Fund, a GoFundMe campaign was created, and the St. Louis Community Enrichment Team, which selects projects or non-profits to which team members can donate time or financial support, launched the “Every Coin Matters” campaign.

“The idea behind ‘Every Coin Matters’ was to encourage people to toss their change or a few bills into the jars that we placed throughout our St. Louis offices. That way we could see that by all of us pitching in a little—like families do—we could really make a difference to a BW family member in need,” said Tammy Martin of the Community Enrichment Team.

Lexi is currently undergoing a year-long course of chemotherapy after having her right kidney and the tumor surrounding it removed. Her severely compromised immune system has made her susceptible to potentially deadly infections so the family keeps a set of bags packed and ready to return to the hospital at a moment’s notice.

“It’s been very tough,” Chris said.  “I know I could not do this anywhere else. Once, when I returned to work after taking time to be with Lexi, one of my leaders said ‘Why are you here? Go home and be with your family.’ I appreciate that but I need to be at work sometimes; it’s my safe place where I can escape for a moment from the stress. Plus, I really want to fulfill my responsibilities and add value as I am overwhelmed with gratitude for what Barry-Wehmiller has done for my family.”

MarcieJosh_WeddingRoss McKenzie, a 22-year veteran of the Barry-Wehmiller organization, feels the same way. His family began receiving financial and emotional support after his son Kai was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia last October. After weeks of random fevers and intermittent pain in his arms, Ross’ wife Bibi took Kai to the ER where tests revealed the cancer.

“I was heading home from a business trip when my wife called and told me to come straight to the ER,” said Ross, currently an Aftermarket Sales Manager for BW Container Systems (now BW Integrated Systems). “‘Is it cancer?’ I asked. ‘Just tell me,’ I pleaded. But I already knew it was.”

Kai will require a three-plus year course of chemotherapy to totally eliminate the cancer from his body.

“The grants and fundraisers have been tremendous,” he said. “To see people that I don’t even know from places as far away as Chennai, India donating to help Kai is a very amazing thing.”

Ross believes the long tenure of many team members throughout Barry-Wehmiller contributes to the company’s deep sense of caring.

“There are so many great things about this company that people tend to work for it for a long time,” said Ross. “Your team becomes your second family. We all look after each other.

“When I’m out on the road I look at it like I am selling for all of my team. It’s what ties me to this group and is reason #368 why I am still with this great company after 22 years.”

The company’s care, concern, support and love for Kai is reason number 369.

On this Father’s Day, Ross plans to spend some time, like he always does, in reflection. “Have I been a good father? What could I do to be better? I suspect this year I will reflect a little bit more,” he shared.

Chris also plans to spend some time on Sunday thinking about the kind of dad he wants to be.

“I used to spend a lot of time terrified of doing the wrong thing as a father,” he reflected. “Now I will spend more time simply enjoying my kids and doing the things that make them smile—which probably means I’ll be reading Winnie the Pooh to Lexi for about the millionth time!”


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