My Dear Friends,
Last night, Martha and I were driving along Rt 112 through Carolina to take our dog Redd to see his veterinarian, Dr. Dave Serra of Wood River Animal Hospital, for a routine check-up. It was about 6:00pm but seemed colder and darker than usual for this time of year. We were listening to Fox News on the radio. The news seemed colder and darker than usual for this time of year. In fact, as I think about it, this entire year has seemed colder and darker than usual. As we drove through the little village of Carolina, an amazing transformation took place. “Oh my gosh, look at that,” Martha said, as she pointed to a beautiful, beaming Christmas tree totally ablaze on someone’s front lawn.
And then we passed a home with lights in the windows and a large wreath centered on the front door.
And then…another glistening tree. And another. And another. And more homes with lights and trees and greens shining through the windows. What a wonderful sight in the middle of a cold, dark night. As I write this, we are still a few days away from Thanksgiving but the good people of Carolina clearly have had enough of the cold and dark.
So have I.
I think we all have had enough.
A couple of months ago, Lisa Konicki, Executive Director of the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce gave me a T-Shirt that proclaimed, “2020 needs a mulligan.” If you are playing golf and somehow hook your drive from the first tee into the woods…or the pond…a mulligan lets you hit your drive again without a penalty. The assumption is that your second drive will lift high into the air, silhouette itself against the clear blue sky, and land far down the center of the fairway with a perfect lie. The problem with that assumption is that the person who hit the first ball into the woods is the same person who is hitting the mulligan. Dreams don’t always come true. There is plenty of room in the woods or pond for a second ball. I think that I would just like to move on and get all of this behind us.
I have been so impressed with the response that I have seen in our community to the limitations and restrictions imposed by COVID-19. PPG has had the front door locked since mid-March. Initially, we had a skeleton team of Joanna, Lee-Ann, Tina and Jon in the building with the rest of us working remotely from our homes. Today we have been able to increase that number while still adhering to all of the intricacies of the COVID protocols. And you, our clients, have worked with us doing phone reviews and Zoom calls in lieu of our normal…and much more desirable…face to face meetings. And we have made it work.
I have to admit that before all of this started, my idea of working remotely was someone who woke up late, had a long lunch and left early. I envisioned someone who spent a lot of time shopping on the internet, watched two or three soaps on TV and basically was disengaged from the business of the office. Wow!!! Was I ever wrong about that. I am so proud of our team. Everyone has stepped up to do all of the things that must be done during a normal work week. It is so impressive to see. When I sit with Martha at the end of the day and we talk about the things that we are grateful for, the hard work and dedication of our PPG family is very high on the list. We don’t take it for granted.
When we sit with clients for a review, we always have the performance numbers available. We have the forms that need completion. We have the list of “things” we want to discuss. Our first question, however, is typically one that goes like this. “Before we get into your accounts and the obvious things we want to review, is there anything that you want to be sure that we discuss? What do you want to be sure that we talk about?”
The responses tend to go like this: “Are we going to be ok?” “Are we safe?” “Is there anything more that we should be doing to protect our kids and grandkids?” “How long do you think this is going to last?” “What’s going on in the big cities and how does that affect me?” Before the election, we heard, “What happens if Biden is elected?” “What happens if Trump is re-elected?” After the election we heard, “What happens if this mess goes to the Supreme Court?”
The number one question is, “Are we going to be ok?” And my number one answer is, “Yes.”
I think that the COVID pandemic has shown a very bright light on all of us throughout our country…throughout the world for that matter. We have seen some of our leaders work hard to make very wise decisions in their attempts to keep us all safe and as protected as possible. We have seen some of our leaders try to use the pandemic to their own political advantage in ways that are unattractive, to say the least. We have seen so many of our friends, family and neighbors firmly commit themselves to following the protocols, wearing masks, social distancing and doing all that they can to protect those around them as well as themselves. We have seen others who resent the intrusions upon themselves and have resisted anything or anyone who seems to intrude on their sense of their own personal freedom.
What impresses me is the way that most of us have grown and learned during these past few difficult months. For most of us, it seems that we have tried to understand what the “rules” are in order to follow them and safeguard our families, ourselves, our co-workers and others around us. There seems to be a growing, universal understanding that the more we know, the more we try to safeguard ourselves…the sooner this will be over. There are still those who treat the COVID protocols with disdain and disregard, but my impression is that that group is growing smaller. At least in our little corner of the world, there seems to be an overall understanding that we are all in this together. As the sign outside of Sandy’s Market says, “This too shall pass.”
The civil unrest in our country is an entirely different matter. The more I try to understand it, the more it makes no sense at all. Proud cities such as Portland, Minneapolis, Louisville, Washington, DC, Chicago, Kenosha and too many others seemed to have turned “lawful protest” into “unlawful anarchy.” Innocent men, women and children are being brutally attacked by people they have never seen before. Small business owners are seeing their life’s work vandalized and destroyed in meaningless ways. How does the destruction of a small business, the looting of a local store or the beating of someone simply trying to protect their property or, in some cases, their family, make sense at any level? Those terrible acts of violence do nothing to honor the memories of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or any of the people they are “supposed” to be reflective of. I remember a couple of instances in my early YMCA days in New York when a scuffle would break out between a couple of teenagers from different schools or different gangs and inevitably there would be a thug…usually older…who would wade into the crowd to randomly sucker punch someone who wasn’t even involved. And I believe that today while we have heroes among us who are putting themselves on the line hoping to make things better…hoping to make their communities better…we still have…Thugs.
I remember all too well life in and around the 1960’s. It was December 1, 1955, when a 42-year-old black woman named Rosa Parks was told to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama to a white man. In those days, segregation was often written into the law. There were “black schools” and “black sections” of libraries and other public buildings, “black” water fountains and “black sections” in restaurants. Segregation was the law of the land. Public buses had “white seating” in the front rows and “colored seating” in the back rows. As the story is written, a white man boarded the bus but the front seats were all occupied. The bus driver demanded that the riders in the front row of the “colored section” give up their seats and stand, thus adding another row to the “white section.”
Three people obeyed and Rosa Parks did not. In her autobiography, Rosa Parks says, “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically…No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
Mrs. Parks was arrested, fined and given a suspended sentence for violating segregation laws. This sparked what became known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott which gained momentum among both white and black citizens.
Martin Luther King, Jr., only twenty-six years old at the time, was elected as the first president of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA).
The civil rights movement was born.
And then came Vietnam. This conflict lasted from 1955 to 1975, with the fall of Saigon on April 30. Americans were deeply divided. Information found in Wikipedia states that, “58,200 U.S. service members died in the conflict, and a further 1,626 remain missing in action.” I know that many of you have suffered throughout your lives with scars and injuries resulting from your service in Vietnam.
There are so many stories from those Civil rights/Vietnam days. Some frightening. Some horrifying. Some heroic. There were protests and sit-ins. Public demonstrations were increasing, especially on the campuses of our nation’s colleges and universities. I was the Youth Director of the Rockland County YMCA in May of 1970 when four Kent State University students were killed and nine injured when members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on a crowd of students gathered to protest the Vietnam War. I will never forget it. Kids…killing kids. Kids on both sides…angry and afraid. Kids.
Just a few days ago, I read the story of Marine Private First-Class Thomas Frank Johnson. He died in the Battle of Tarawa on a small island in the South Pacific on November 22, 1943. His remains were recently discovered and identified and returned to his family for burial in Red Bluff, California, 77 years after he died. He was 18 years old. His older brother, Hugh, died in the same battle on the previous day. His remains have never been found.
In reading about Private Johnson, I researched information obtained from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. They report that “of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. At the end of the war, there were approximately 79,000 Americans unaccounted for. Today, that number remains at more than 72,000.”
And, for the most part…these were kids. Strong. Heroic. Young men and women. Various ethnic backgrounds. Various religious beliefs. Kids with their lives ahead of them. Kids with families who loved them. Kids.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about my Dad and Martha’s Dad. It’s a story worth re-telling here. “I didn’t serve in the military. My father did. My uncles did. My three cousins did. My younger brother did. Martha’s father did as well. He was “Pop” to all of us. As I recall, he was a Lieutenant in the US Navy and came ashore as a part of the fifth wave in Normandy. I only heard Pop speak of it once. He said, ‘“We were all crawling up the beach after we came out of the water. I remember the noise. The man on my left went down. The man on my right went down. I kept crawling up the beach.”’ He wouldn’t elaborate further. Dear Pop.
My Dad was in the National Guard. He struggled with asthma his entire life but somehow had managed to join the service when the war broke out. My recollection is that he got his mother to sign for him and did not disclose the extent of his health issues. At any rate, he was in Maryland, I think at Aberdeen Proving Grounds when his unit was shipped out to North Africa. Dad happened to be in the infirmary at that same time. His unit went to war without him. I’m not sure of the exact details but apparently the men in his unit became trapped in a box canyon…or something like that…by Rommel and his troops. None of my Dad’s buddies came home. And he never really got over it. Sometimes when he drank, he would say that he should have been there with them. Instead of feeling grateful that he was spared, he felt guilty that he somehow let them down. He was a good, decent man. He was a patriot who loved his country. He came to love his Lord and served as a Deacon in his church. But the tentacles of his guilt haunted him. He struggled with so much during his life and just as he was beginning to achieve some success with a trucking business he started, he developed an acute staph infection that attacked the lining of his spinal cord and brain. He was in a coma for over a week and died the morning of my first final exam at college. He was 48 years old. Was he a victim of survivor’s syndrome or just bad luck? I’ll never know for sure. But the older I get, the more I realize and respect the extent of his sacrifice. Love you, Dad.”
And that brings us to today.
My Dad had a great expression about the “tail wagging the dog.” We have elected representatives in Congress who seem intent on turning the United States of America into something unrecognizable. We have leaders who insist that we are intrinsically racist. We have Mayors and in some cases, Governors, who have allowed gangs to loot and burn and destroy private property. We have people intent on destroying statues and monuments to leaders from centuries ago. Earlier this summer, the Westerly Police saved the statue of Christopher Columbus in Wilcox Park from being defaced with paint by two women, one from Boston and one from Providence. Two sixteen-year-old boys were arrested in October for vandalizing the same statue. And it just seems to go on and on. Seriously??
I love this country. My country. I don’t love all of the things in our history but I love the foundation that our Forefathers created. Winston Churchill is credited with saying that, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” There are many variants of the phrase which, I believe originated with George Santayana. “Those who do not remember their past are doomed to repeat their mistakes.”
The message is clear. Our history is our history. It cannot be changed. What we can change is our present…and more importantly…our future. Knowledge of our history gives us the opportunity to learn…to improve…to avoid repeating the same mistakes. The history of our world is a history of violence. Humans are not necessarily warm, cuddly, peaceful beings. Our history points that out. But history also points out that we as humans have a sense of morality. We have a sense of purpose. We have the ability to love…to have faith in “something” greater than ourselves.
The history of the United States is a story of growth and, hopefully…improvement. It’s a story of a love of freedom. A story of creating opportunity. It’s a story of respect for law and order. And…yes…along the way our story shows that we have often been blind to things we didn’t want to see…or perhaps didn’t know enough to see. Our history does not reflect perfection. I think it reflects purpose. It reflects a commitment to become better. It reflects the souls of the hundreds of thousands of Americans, some of whom are our family members, who died…or worse…in the defense of our country, our beliefs and ourselves.
My prayer this Christmas season, is that we can step away from the noise, the evil, the name calling…the lies…and be the kind of people that so many have given their lives to protect. I’m reminded of the story of Father Flanagan from Boy’s Town. In 1943, Father Flanagan saw a picture in a magazine of a young man carrying a disabled boy on his back. It reminded him of a similar situation that actually occurred years before when he first established his “Home for Boys” in Nebraska. He obtained permission from the magazine to adopt the picture and the caption as the mission statement for Boy’s Town. “He ain’t heavy, Father. He’s my brother.”
I am so humbled, and so grateful for the many kind words and understanding that you all have shown us as we work with you during these difficult times. We have four new members of our PPG family who joined us in 2020. They are:
Ms. Shawna Bernard, Client Service Associate
Ms. Sheri Hartman, Client Service Associate
Mr. Michael Dembro, Chief Investment Officer, PPG; Registered Representative, RJFS
Mr. Giancarlo Pannone, Financial Advisor
WELCOME TO THE PPG FAMILY!!!!!
It is ironic that in the same breath that I welcome four outstanding professionals to the PPG Family…I must bid farewell to another outstanding professional and long-time friend, Mike Ryan. Mike has announced that he is turning off his HP 12C and will retire as of December 31, 2020. Mike joined PPG in 1985. He holds a PhD in Educational Psychology and is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®). He has always been highly regarded for his ability to communicate complex investment concepts in a clear and easily understood manner. Throughout his career, he distinguished himself on a variety of levels. He is a former President of the Rhode Island Society of the Financial Planning Association. Nationally, Mike served for three years as a member of the International Board of Standards and Practices for Certified Financial Planners, Inc. (IBCFP). His published research during that time won the CFP Board Research Article Award in 2004. Mike served the international financial community for five years during which time he helped CFP affiliates attain their certification in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. He has spent the entirety of his career as a Board member and volunteer with several community non-profit organizations. He has spent numerous vacations working on projects with Habitat for Humanity. He actually may be best remembered for his ten years as a featured guest with Frank Coletta on the morning television broadcast of local NBC affiliate, WJAR, channel ten.
Bottom-line: Mike is a terrific guy and consummate professional. He will be greatly missed by all of us, colleagues and clients alike, at PPG. God bless you, Gayle, your son, Chris and all of your family. Thanks for your friendship and thanks for all you’ve done for your clients, for our profession, for our community and for PPG.
For the past nine years in my Christmas letters to you, I have always shared “something” about Annabelle and Reddington, our two cherished Portuguese Water Dogs. “How are the dogs?” is the question that I hear several times a week as I talk with clients. It breaks my heart to tell you that we lost our sweet Annabelle this past spring while we were in Florida. It was late in the afternoon on a Wednesday when both Reddy and Anna went for a walk with me. We came home and I played ball with Anna. That night she sat beside my chair, as always, while I watched TV. She seemed a little “off” when she and Redd lay down in in their crates to sleep but Martha and I thought she might just be tired.
“Honey….wake up. Somethings wrong with Anna.” It was 6:00 am as Martha woke me out of a sound sleep. We went to find our girl breathing very hard. She didn’t try to stand as I stuck my head in the door of her crate. I helped her drink a couple swallows of water from her bowl as I held it for her. She wasn’t in pain. Her brown eyes held mine as if to say, “I’m ok Dad. Just stay with me for a while.” We held her. Rubbed her neck. Kissed her nose. She laid her chin in the open palm of my hand and fell asleep. She never woke up.
I remember when Bromley died 15 years ago, I swore that I would not put myself through that empty sadness ever again. But, of course, I did. Reddy first and Anna a couple of years later. I’ve talked with many of you about “why.” Why do we do this to ourselves? I think the answer is that the love that we share with an animal is unlike anything else that we experience in life. There is a bond. There is a joy. There is a relationship of trust.
We believe that Annabelle was afflicted with a horrible disease called hemangiosarcoma. It is a cancerous tumor of the blood vessel walls often involving the spleen and heart. It typically affects larger dogs around age 9 through 12. It is difficult to diagnose and, even if discovered early, the prognosis is very poor. In many respects, Anna was fortunate. So many of our pets struggle near the end of their lives and must depend on their owner to make the most nightmarish decision on their behalf. So many of you have shared your stories with me over the years of the times you have had to say “goodbye” to your precious companion.
So…and I hesitate to share this…but Anna’s story would be incomplete without it. We often referred to her as an “old soul.” How little we knew.
We have a motion detection light outside of our bedroom window that hasn’t worked for many years. Probably decades. It’s one of those things that I had planned to replace “someday.” The switch doesn’t work. The light is broken. It needed to be replaced. A couple of days after Anna passed, I woke up about 4:00 am and saw a light on outside the bedroom window. At first I thought that I must have left a light on…only to remember that there is no light there. Nothing. I got out of bed and walked around the house to where I saw the light. It was the broken motion light. The light that hadn’t worked in years. It was shining brightly in the pre-dawn darkness. Wait a minute?!?! Martha simply shook her head, “You know who that is, don’t you?”
The light turned off after about thirty minutes. With all of my heart, I wanted to believe that somehow my sweet Anna had found a way to reach out to us. I’ve been blessed to see some pretty unusual things during my lifetime, but this seemed like a stretch. I checked out the light the next day just to be sure. It was broken. There was no way it could work. It was broken. And at 4:00 am the next morning, I opened my eyes again to see the light shining in the darkness outside of our window. It stayed on for about half an hour. The tears rolled down my cheeks as I quietly whispered, “I know…I know. I love you, too.”
Our son Chris sent us a beautiful poem that I had never read before. It goes like this:
When tomorrow starts without me,
And I’m not there to see:
The sun will rise and find your eyes
All filled with tears for me.
I know how much you love me,
As much as I love you,
And each time that you think of me,
I know you’ll miss me too.
But when tomorrow starts without me,
Please try to understand,
That an angel came and called my name,
And petted me with her hand.
I thought about our lives together:
I know you must be sad.
I thought of all the love we shared,
And all the fun we had.
So when tomorrow starts without me,
Don’t think we’re far apart.
For every time you think of me,
I’m right there in your heart.
Thank you for your trust. Thank you for the privilege we have to work with you in helping you protect your family and achieve your own financial goals and objectives. This is a position of trust and confidence that we embrace and take very seriously. This is why we are here.
All of us at PPG: Joanna, Lee-Ann, Jennifer, Eileen, Tina, Melissa, Andrea, Stephanie, Shawna, Sheri, Mike Ryan, Mike Dembro, Chris, Peter, Dan, Jonathan, Patrick, Giancarlo, our families, my wife Martha and, of course, Reddington join me is wishing you and your loved ones a blessed and spirit filled holiday and the happiest of New Years. Join us in wearing our masks, washing our hands and maintaining social distance. Stay Safe. Stay Healthy.
And… with apologies to the late, great entertainer Jimmy Durante, “Goodnight Bromley. Goodnight Annabelle. Wherever you are.”
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah
Additional information, including management fees and expenses, is provided on Professional Planning Group’s Form ADV Part 2, available upon request or at the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure site https://www.adviserinfo.sec.gov/Firm/108868.