A True Mentor is Always Considered in the Present Tense

For the last 15 years, I have been curating a list of mentor pairs from a variety of sources including autobiographies, biographies, newspaper articles, personal interviews, and diligent historical research.

The pairings are divided into ten categories. (1) Actors, Comedians, Producers and Directors (Stage, Screen and TV); (2) Mentoring relationships depicted in motion pictures and television; (3) Musicians, Songwriters, and Singers; (4) Classical and Broadway Musicians, Composers, Conductors, Ballet, and Modern Dancers; (5) Fashion, Media and Celebrities; (6) Artists, Writers, Photographers, Publishers, Novelists, Poets; (7) Mentoring relationships depicted in print (novels stories, fiction); (8) Sports Figures, Athletes, and Coaches; (9) Historical, Political, Spiritual and Civic Leaders; and (10) Business, Industry, Education, Science, and Medical Leaders.

In many cases, the mentoring relationship is one between a mentor who has died and a person who they mentored who is still living. When I first started detailing this type of relationship, I referred to the relationship in the past tense: ‘the person who died was a mentor to the person who is still living.’ For example, when referring to the mentoring relationship between the award-winning actress Patty Duke, who died in March of 2016, and the person she mentored, Melissa Gilbert, another great actress, writer, and producer, one could say that Patty Duke was a mentor to Melissa Gilbert.

But that description using the past tense would be totally wrong with regards to mentoring. That is one of the aspects of mentoring that makes it different from virtually all other types of relationships. A true mentor helps you learn something better or faster, and that learning lasts your entire life. In other words, what you learn from a mentor does not disappear, fade, or stop when the mentor perishes. What you learn from a true mentor stays with you all your life; it’s not temporary, it’s a permanent part of you as a person.

Therefore, when a mentor dies, we don’t say he or she “was” a mentor to so and so. Instead, we say, the person who died “is” a mentor to so and so. And if the mentor is a true mentor, the mentoring influence remains regardless of what has happened to the mentor. In some cases, for example, people might refer to someone as a “former” mentor or a person is “no longer a mentor.” A true mentor is a mentor for life even when there is no longer an active relationship. This is one of the outstanding qualities of mentoring; one that distinguishes mentoring from coaching, training, and supervision.