Look What You've Started

Big Brother and Little Brother, More than Forty Years Down the Road

Linton Wells II and Dave Wilson, early in their match.

More recently (from left to right): Dave, Lisa (his wife), Linda (Lin's wife) and Lin. 

Dave Wilson grew up in Baltimore's inner city. His mother Diane worked multiple jobs to support her family. In time, she came to recognize that Dave needed someone in his life to learn and receive guidance from, to look up to. He needed someone who could serve as a male role model to help show him how to grow to be a respectable young man. She contacted Big Brothers Big Sisters to look into enrolling Dave in the program.

“She had this insane idea that I needed someone to ‘mentor’ me,” Dave remembers about his mom. “At 11 years old, this concept was a non-factor to me. No father, and running around the neighborhood unattended wasn’t anything new to me; I was happy with the status quo. But in hindsight, this lack of a role model could have been my undoing.”

Not too far from where Dave and his mother made their home lived a young naval officer, recently graduated from the United States Naval Academy in nearby Annapolis. Linton “Lin” Wells II was attending Johns Hopkins University, where he would pursue a Master’s Degree in Mathematical Sciences and a Ph.D. in International Relations. Currently, Lin is the director of the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.

Lin grew up an only child and was interested in looking for opportunities that would allow him to learn how to better interact with young people. He offered his time, volunteering with the local Big Brothers Big Sisters agency. As he lived nearby, before long, Lin and Dave were matched.

At their first meeting, uncertainty had risen on both sides, with Dave going so far as to think “This guy’s about as dorky as they come.”

Their first outing was to go do a little duckpin bowling in town. With that outing, Dave and Lin began a relationship that would last for more than 40 years—well beyond the length of a typical Big Brothers Big Sisters match.

“Off we go in a ragged Ford Cortina to the bowling alley,” Dave reminisces. “As we proceed to throw most of the balls into the gutter, I start to realize I am having fun. I also start to realize I will be kind of sad that this will end shortly. I was reassured that we would get together the next weekend, but why? What would make him show up the following weekend? I am still puzzled.”

Lin did show up the following weekend.

“Forty-two years later, we’re friends,” says Dave. “He’s truly a good guy. I’m not sure what he saw in me.”

In the context of their Big Brother – Little Brother relationship, any sort of formalized structure or direction never really took root. Lin never felt the need to treat their relationship in a regimented fashion with things like studying, followed by recreational activities, followed by something else. Instead, they simply spent time together, talking about and doing things they both found interesting.

Dave and Lin would go bowling or play chess on one outing, go to the planetarium on another or just talk and hang out. Granted, sometimes the academic world intersected with things they found interesting to talk about.

“Sometimes it was just posing questions to Dave,” explained Lin. “We’d talk about things like ‘how does a hurricane work?’”

According to Dave, a typical exchange like this would often become a learning experience for him.

Lin: "What is the capitol of Uganda?"

Dave: "I do not know."

Lin: "What are your plans for tomorrow?"

Dave: "Nothing."

Lin: "Well how about a trip to the library?"

Dave: "Why?"

Lin: "So when I ask you next week, ‘What is the capitol of Uganda?’, you will know the answer."

Dave stresses that Lin pushed him to figure things out for himself, like with manners and how to behave, describing how he set the bar high for him.

Perhaps informed by his experience in the navy, Lin worked with Dave to improve his confidence in the swimming pool one summer, helping to teach him to swim.

“You let go of the wall; you go swim,” Lin told him. “I tried to show that he could do more than he thought he could.”

As an officer in the United States Navy, Lin’s position afforded him the ability to expose Dave to some unforgettable experiences. Dave’s first plane ride was with Lin. When he was an operations officer on a destroyer, Lin was even able to take Dave on a tour of the ship!

Through all these fantastic experiences, and in the midst of Lin’s intense academic and military career, he and Dave still managed to stay in touch and maintain a close and unique relationship. Lin helped Dave to recognize his goal to get out of the inner-city.

Lin’s career would take him around to various locations around the world quite often, so occasionally his and Dave’s contact diminished. It was not always easy, what with the demands placed on Lin by his career, but they always tried to stay in contact. They made an effort to reconnect through the 90’s and 00’s, and they have been just as close ever since.

Following an extended period with little contact between the two, Dave and Lin had to reestablish a baseline for their relationship, as Dave was no longer a child and was in fact starting a family of his own. This ultimately was not an issue for them and things quickly fell into place, with Lin taking to Dave’s family.

Dave runs an IT department for a large engineering firm in Maryland. He remembers a time Lin first showed him around on an old, outdated Toshiba computer from work. Dave asserts that Lin is responsible for him being the person he is today.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without him,” Dave explained. “I don’t know how to show what it’s meant to me.”

“Personally, I love seeing young people develop,” said Lin, “whether it’s the kids I now teach, my children, or Dave. I like watching them go from ‘kid’ to responsible, interested adult.”

“It was more than just doing fun things,” Lin continues. “It was seeing him mature how he has. The time element doesn’t seem a lot to me. I just had my 50th year working for the Department of Defense, so maybe long-term relationships are just something I’m interested in.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters’ research into mentoring bears out that children and young people who have a strong and enduring mentor-figure in their lives are more able to have stable relationships with family and friends, are less likely to engage in risky behaviors and have improved confidence and aspirations. 

“People don’t understand,” Dave said. “It only takes one person to reach out and say ‘Hey, I care.’ It changed my life.”

From Dave, to Lin:

An Army-Navy game, a planetarium, chess, mathematics, Black Holes. All of these things were never a thought in my world, but they quickly became an outlet and opened a completely new way to spend my time. I became obsessed to learn everything Lin Wells knew.

So many questions, too many answers, but I learned, and continue to debate Lin on Politics, Quantum Physics, Economics, Foreign Policy, and most importantly, I continue to learn the right and wrong ways to approach life.
Lin, you traveled and lived many places: Japan to attend a War College, San Diego to be stationed with the Pacific Fleet, Germany, Geneva, and I think every country, save a few. Whether it was for a week, a month, or at times, a year, I missed you many times, Lin. But you always came back. Thank you.
You are my brother, and most importantly, you are my friend.


From Lin, to Dave:

Our relationship has given me a chance to see someone grow, and to interact with a young person in ways I had never been able to, as an only child.

I’ve been able to be proud of you, to watch you grow to who you have become, to play lots of chess, bowl lots of games (not very well) and to have some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had with anyone. 

I look forward to traveling with you on new adventures, large and small and to exploring new ideas.

There were several times when I was afraid we had drifted apart, but you always welcomed me back. 

I began Big Brothers with a hope of learning something, but I gained so much more—a lifelong friend.

Thank you.

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