Archive for December, 2019

Ron Vickroy

December 22nd, 2019


I’ve written several of these tributes over the past decade and a half, but this one has been one of my most emotionally challenging.

The first time I met Ron Vickroy, he was a board member of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, and I was a candidate for the position of President/CEO of that organization. He was working as the head of marketing for Crown American, and although he was a few years younger than me, I recognized immediately that his gifts were superior to not only his age but also to those of his peers.

I got that job, and Ron became my boss. I latched on to him as a mentor, a teacher, and quickly as a friend. Ron had one of the most fertile minds I had ever encountered. Yes, he had graduated first in his class from the Air Force Academy, and then went through the prestigious GSIA School at Carnegie Mellon University, but there was much more to Ron than IQ/EQ/QPA or any other intellectual marker. He was a compassionate, committed, community-minded leader with a nearly zero focus on materialism.

When you think about movies like “All The Right Stuff,” that’s what Ron had. After my Laurel Highlands experience, I was recruited to a VP position at the former Mercy Hospital in Johnstown and had an opportunity to recommend Ron as a member of the Foundation Board of Directors. By then Ron had made the decision to forgo his higher paying marketing job and begin work as a business professor at UPJ.
His talent was quickly recognized, and he was recruited onto the Hospital Board of Director where he served until he transitioned to the Conemaugh Board of Directors. This is where he literally found a home and served for pretty much the remainder of his life.

Ron also found his love in teaching, and no matter when you met his students, the description of his talent, dedication, knowledge, but most importantly his inspiration was their focus. Ron was not only an amazing person, a brilliant and creative individual, he was also the best of the best as an instructor, a mentor, and a leader for his students.

Besides a vacation with he and his wife, Donna, to Aruba, my fondest memories of Ron were brain-storming meetings in his family room. He filled me with hope, excitement, and commitment to progress.

There was only one exception to this. I had attempted to take up golfing in my 40’s. Ron was a scratch golfer and sometimes tolerated my presence on the golf course.

Once after a particularly awful round, I turned to him in complete frustration and asked, “Ron, do you think I’ll ever be a great golfer.”  Knowing full-well that my passion and expertise had been in music, he said, “Let me ask you, Nick, if I took up trumpet right now, would I ever be any good?”  I gave my clubs away after that game and never regretted that decision one time!

Let me close by saying there was no better board member, teacher, mentor, friend, or human being than Ron Vickroy.


Love ya, man.


Perfection is worth the effort

December 4th, 2019


At age 21, I learned a significant lesson in both humility and reality. As a musician in a pit orchestra for a very complicated musical, my job was to play an extremely difficult trumpet part perfectly. This show required every ounce of musical training, knowledge, skill, coordination and endurance I had.

After a nearly 100% flawless performance, and an above-average performance from the actors, the show ended, and the audience applauded generously in appreciation. When we gathered together after the show, all of the praise and acknowledgement of skill and talent was directed toward the actors. At first I was confused and then a little angry that not one attendee congratulated the pit musicians for their almost flawless performance, not even my own parents.

That’s when it hit me. Similar to my orchestra playing friends, but completely different from my jazz and pop musician friends, my job involved one thing only that day: perfection. Those 10,000 hours I spent practicing in my room, in practice rooms and in orchestras, bands and ensembles, were all directed toward a perfect performance. Not unlike the job of an airline pilot or a racing pit crew, it’s only when things are not perfect that you’re noticed.

Of course, that same thing was not the case when I played in lounges and clubs, but when I was hired to perform symphonic work, ice shows and shows for Disney or for other performing groups and stars, it was also about perfection. In fact, if you missed even a few important notes or  entrances in a virtual sea of notes and music, you could be fired on the spot for those minor misses.

Let’s turn our attention to health care. I’ve written about medical errors. They are a major cause of death and suffering in the United States, and I have personally experienced several incidents over the years.

It hit me today that the same rules that are applied to musicians, racing pit crews and pilots might also be directed toward the staff and teams of performers employed in our health centers and hospitals. The phrase “Close enough for jazz” definitely should not apply to medical care.

I’m not sure which personality profiles should be married to which job descriptions, but if you’ve ever spent significant time with a pharmacist, it’s pretty clear they have been inculcated with the perfection gene, and collateral damage is not in their vernacular.

On the other side of that coin, Monday mornings were eye-opening times for me in the health care CEO seat as I’d review and sign off on the recorded medical errors that could lead to eventual lawsuits or malpractice claims, even though our hospital had the lowest rate of these types of incidents of any of our peer hospitals and one of the lowest rates of error in the United States.

Let’s be clear, perfection is not always something we should strive for in every aspect of life. It can make us crazy. In fact, I love life’s imperfections, but not when it comes to someone who is cutting me open or medicating me.

What can we do to ignite our perfection gene, and how do we instill that propensity to be perfect in the right people for the right jobs? How do we create more Top Guns?

Practice works, and not unlike those musicians or pilots who sit in rehearsals and simulation labs for hours at a time, every health system should require the same.

Fifteen years ago, I performed brain surgery on a human simulation dummy, and it felt very real when I applied that scalpel to the skin and hit the skull bone beneath. It certainly got my attention.

It’s my belief we can reduce deaths from unnecessary medical accidents by building in more simulation practice to the process, by requiring periodic testing to determine skill levels, and then reassigning personnel appropriately.

Let’s stop burying our mistakes.