I first met Len Cadwallader in 2000, when he was a finalist for the position of Executive Director at Vital Communities.
When you first meet Len Cadwallader, four things are clear, straight away:
One: As he introduces himself, Len looks you straight in the eye. Len doesn’t look past you: Len’s gaze is focused; his eyes are full of light. Len really wants to see you, to know you, and to know your truth.
Two: Then Len shakes your hand. WOW! That grip is rock-solid! From the first, simple touch, you know that Len works with his hands, works out, and values physical labor.
Three: When Len asks you a question, his question is sure to be authentic. Yes, Len is polite—and a mensch—but Len’s questions are not rote or simple pleasantries. He inquires, explores, follows up.
Four: As you reply, Len actually listens. He is not looking for his opportunity to speak; he is not moving ahead to the next, better person. He is with you where you are, listening to your story, connecting to your humanity.
As you get to know Len better, you understand that these four qualities are not random. They are, indeed, qualities—qualities that have been cultivated.
Number one—the look—I suspect comes from decades working at Farm and Wilderness. There, Len learned to embody certain camp values: being welcoming, attentive, respectful, and supportive.
Number two—the grip—comes from decades of working with chainsaws, screw drivers, rock bars, post-hole diggers, griddles, and spatulas. Len doesn’t simply take care of his yard: he maintains local trails, conserved lands, the communities of people in need.
Number three—the question—comes from decades serving as a facilitator, executive director, and board member. Len’s conversational magic is rooted in that fact that he remembers that he is speaking with people: people with pasts and presents, gifts and challenges, hopes and fears.
Number four—the listener. Hmm. I suspect that the listener comes to Len from his many decades as a committed member of the Friends community. Len listens, waits, trusts. And that space that Len offers to us is a gift, a gift that gives birth to possibilities.
Now that I have known Len for two decades, I recognize that Len was the perfect hire—and the perfect person to serve as the Executive Director of Vital Communities.
Vital Communities is, in fact, able to celebrate a remarkable 25th anniversary, in great part, because of Len. Len’s look, grip, questions, and ability to listen enabled VC to transition from being a great concept to a functional bi-state, four-county, 60-town service organization.
Len’s eyes sensed emerging opportunities; his grip stretched out to bridge divides. Len’s ability to question, listen, and act transformed VC’s vision, programs, and practice.
Len is a good man. A great man. His habits, spirit and grace help us remember our humanity, our inspiration, and what just may be possible.
Please raise your glass to toast my friend and mentor, Len Cadwallader.