Fox Conner is one of the most influential and little known men in American history. Unless you’re a military history buff, or you’ve recently seen the Mississippi Wall of Fame, you’ve probably never heard of him.
Here are the basic biographical facts. Conner was born in Slate Springs, MS in 1874 and graduated from West Point in 1898. He served as Chief of Operations under General John Pershing in the First World War. He wrote the after-action critiques that became major plans for the Army that won World War II.
This is distinguished to be sure, but many men and women have had careers as distinguished. What set Conner apart was that his example of practical learning, rigorous professional standards, and gentlemanly conduct affected the lives and careers of some of World War II’s top commanders. One of them was Dwight Eisenhower.
From 1921 to 1925, General Conner commanded a Brigade in Panama, where Eisenhower was one of the young officers. Ike was bright and he had leadership qualities. But his superiors though he that he didn’t understand the social and political context of military operations.
Conner loaned Ike some historical novels from his extensive library. “Did you like those?” he’ asked when Ike returned them, “Wouldn’t you like to know something about the real history of the period?” Then he’d loan Ike a book of history or biography.
They rode together on trail clearing trips through the Panama jungles. They talked. And Eisenhower learned and matured. Years later, this is what he wrote.
“It is clear now that life with General Conner was a sort of graduate school in military affairs and the humanities, leavened by the comments and discourses of a man who was experienced in his knowledge of men and their conduct. … he is the one more or less invisible figure to whom I owe an incalculable debt.”
People like Fox Conner change the world by changing others through the power of their advice and their example. They are the world’s mentors.
Who are the Fox Conners in your life? Are you a Fox Conner to anyone? The way most of us get to have the biggest impact on the world is to change other people through the power of our advice and our example.
Years from now, who will owe you that incalculable debt?