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  • Writer's pictureBob Rivenbark

The Impact of a Mentor: Remembering Paul Kwilecki



There's an old adage that says, "Behind every successful person, there's a mentor who believed in them." It underscores a truth many of us know intrinsically — none of us walk the path to success alone. Along that winding road, there are helping hands, guiding lights, and voices of reason that shape our journey. For me, that guiding light was Paul Kwilecki. Though many might wonder about the relationship dynamics of a son-in-law and his wife's father, with Paul, it was different. It transcended familial boundaries. He wasn't just a family member; he was a beacon of inspiration and wisdom. To the world, Paul Kwilecki was one of America's distinguished documentary photographers. A casual search will lead you to his incredible works, forever immortalized as part of the permanent digital collection at Duke University’s Repository of Collections and Archives. His photographs capture the essence of life, each frame telling a story more profound than words can express. But to me, he was not just the legendary photographer; he was a mentor, a guide, and above all, a source of unwavering support. There's a particular memory of Paul that stands out, a conversation that's been etched into my soul. During the early days of my career, like many, I found myself lost in the vast sea of talented individuals. It's easy to feel insignificant when you're constantly surrounded by greatness. On expressing these insecurities to Paul, he shared a piece of advice that I carry with me to this day. “I know you’re intimidated by all these great writers you admire so much,” he said, looking straight into my eyes. “But I tell you this. If you would persist in your folly, eventually, Nature will yield up her secrets to you.” At first glance, it might seem like a cryptic message. But what Paul meant was that if I continued with my passion, stayed true to my course, and remained relentless, eventually, the universe would open its doors and secrets to me. It was a reminder that success doesn't come overnight and that the journey matters just as much as the destination. Years have passed since that conversation, but the essence of Paul's words remain. Today, I stand where I am because I persisted. Because I took those words to heart. Because I believed in the power of persistence, patience, and passion. The world did, indeed, yield its secrets to me, just as Paul said it would.


As we navigate through life, it's essential to remember the people who've had a hand in shaping our journeys. For me, it was Paul Kwilecki. His legacy as a documentary photographer is awe-inspiring, but his legacy as a mentor is invaluable. It's a testament to the fact that sometimes, the most profound impacts on our lives come from the most unexpected places. So, as you reflect on your own journey, think about those who've been your guiding lights. Cherish them, thank them, and most importantly, remember their wisdom. After all, we're all a product of the love, support, and advice that's been bestowed upon us.

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