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God moves Waterford to open heart to wounded war vets
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Vietnam veteran Bob Gutierrez accepts the keys to a new 2010 Ford Fusion from Manteca Ford owner Phil Waterford before his return trip to Texas as Place of Refuge church pastor Mike Dillman joins in the thrill of the moment. Iraqi veterans Jose Jauregui, Charles Palmer’s father Charles and Christopher Braley stand at right with the entire staff of the dealership standing around the car. - photo by GLENN KAHL
“When God puts something heavy in your heart you get things done,” Manteca Ford dealership owner Phil Waterford told a group of his employees as he stood in front of his business giving away a 2010 Ford Fusion and $3,000 in cash.

Waterford had been deeply touched by the patriotism he witnessed in last weekend’s “Not Forgotten” tribute that honored military veterans for their service - especially touched by a man who grew up in Manteca and had driven from his Texas home in his old car to be part of the veterans‘ recognition ceremonies.

When the dealership owner learned that Bob Gutierrez’ vehicle was in such bad shape that he might not make it back home he said he was unable to sleep. Waterford decided he would step up to the plate and make a difference for the Vietnam vet.

Combat veterans who had been seriously injured in Iraq also touched his heart as did the father of Charles Palmer -- a Marine killed in action - who has  carried on his own personal program seeking public support for American soldiers. Wounded soldiers Christopher Braley who served in Al-anbar province, Jose Jaurgui, who served in Romali and Palmer all received checks for $1,000.

At the conclusion of the short ceremony Friday afternoon, Waterford asked his employees to join hands with him, Pastor Mike Dillman and the veterans he was honoring in a moment of prayer.  They stood circling the vehicle the Manteca businessman was giving away with their heads bowed in reverence.

Waterford later said what God put in his heart was so special saying, “He made it very clear to me and gave me the vision of exactly what was going to happen and how it was going to unfold.”

The dealership owner said he was returning from a trip to Washington, D.C., in an attempt to gain industry support for the Ford dealers related to the stimulus program when it became evident to him he had to do something.

Dad made a big mark on his life
He said he didn’t know anything about the veterans, the wounded warriors or who was going to receive the car or the checks.  Waterford said God made it clear to him -- a nervous person by his very nature - saying he was told there were three things he was to convey to these “wounded warriors.”

The first thing he wanted me to do was to  thank them for their service and for their sacrifices.  The second thing was to let them know we are proud of them, he said.  Thirdly, he was to convey that they were loved.  

“Those were the three things that God put in my heart - what was to be conveyed to them,” he said.  “That was probably more important than the gifts that these gentlemen received.”

He added that as people continue to come into the dealership and send him emails - and they’re thanking him - he stresses that he was just the messenger.

As a young boy, Waterford grew up close to his father who died some nine years ago.  He credits both of his parents for giving him and his siblings their utmost support in their youth growing up in a poor neighborhood in Chicago.

“Although he’s gone, I feel like one of the luckiest guys in the world that I had a man in my life for so many years who taught me right from wrong and the principals of a good work ethic and doing the right thing,” he said.

The car dealer said his father was in the copier, typewrite business with a little “mom and pop store” and would go door-to-door attempting to make sales - young Phil was often at his side.  

He said his dad’s business was built on customer satisfaction and making sure his customers were treated well before, during and after a sale.  “These were principles I never forgot about - and the work ethic.  It didn’t matter how long we had to work, how many hours we were there or when we got home - the bottom line was, ‘Did we get the job accomplished?’”

Waterford also referred to his “caring” mother and grandmothers who were consistently there for him.  He said his mother was one who was always willing to give something to anyone if she saw a need - it didn’t matter who there were - whether she knew them or not, he said.

Waterford has three brothers and one sister and they have all been very successful.  His brothers are Mark, Tony, and Randy and he is the youngest of the brothers.  These guys were all followed up by sister, Rita.

After his dad passed away, he relocated his mother and sister to Northern California.  His brother Tony also lives in Northern California as does  brother Mark.

Randy is a cardio-vascular surgeon practicing in Hawaii.  

Waterford said he was always in the kitchen when his grandmothers were cooking.  “I was cooking, helping cook and doing the best I could,” he interjected.

Whatever was on the menu, he pitched in to help he said, and he was often assigned to clean and prepare the string beans at a young age.  

“I know how to make candy yams - I make them better than anybody else,” he beamed.

There are certain recipes that are family recipes, too, that he learned to put together.  “How to make sauce, chili sauce, any type of sauce from scratch, I learned from my grandmother,” he said.

Very seldom would they go out and buy something that was in a can or bottle,  he added.  They would make it themselves living in a “financially challenged environment” in Chicago.

He said reflecting back on that whole era with his father, they were fortunate to have both of their parents -- their biological parents - in the same household. He said that was actually a rarity in the environment that he and his siblings came from in that big city.

“A lot of kids would gravitate toward our family because we had the structure of a mom and a dad - we had a family. Some of those same family values we had, like always having dinner at the same time every day, made a difference with his friends. It didn’t matter what was going on - at 5 o’clock you’d better be home - it was dinner time and we’d sit together - it’s like that old saying, ‘The Family that Prays Together Stays Together!’”

He said his father would tell his children growing up that people spend more time planning vacations than they do planning their own lives. “He challenged us as young men -- he wanted to know what we were going to do and how we were going to make it (in life),” he recalled.

Brother served 4 presidents as Secret Service agent
He said his oldest brother Mark always said he was going to be either an FBI agent or a Secret Service agent.  “He became one of the only agents in the history of the United States to be on the President’s detail -- with Mr. Reagan, Mr. Bush, Mr. Clinton, and George W. - he’s sworn to secrecy, he’s the right guy for the job.”

Waterford said his brother Tony said he wanted to be a pilot and go into the Air Force.  Tony went to the Academy in Colorado Springs and has had a great career. Brother Randy went to Northwestern - he said he was going to be a basketball player and be a doctor at night. . So Randy played Big 10 basketball in college and went to Stanford Medical School and now he’s a cardio-vascular surgeon.

“Our mother told us there was nothing we couldn’t do if we put our minds to it,” he said.  “The money (for education) came from scholarships - we didn’t have the money.”

Waterford and his wife have four sons.  Phil’s oldest son Phil Jr., 24, works with his dad at the dealership. Another son Eric, went to Modesto Christian High School, where he gained a full athletic scholarship to play basketball for the University of Portland.  Waterford said he is doing well both on the hardwood and in academics.

Son Brandyn, 10, along with Amare, a year old toddler are the youngest at home.

Waterford made a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., on May 22 to speak for his industry,  hoping to secure needed funding.  Manteca Ford recently won an award for having the highest customer satisfaction for any Ford, Lincoln, Mercury dealership in the nation.  

“Some of our numbers exceed the region and the entire nation.  I flew back to be part of the Nor Forgotten ceremony - as soon as I got back they changed the script,” he said, “it really feeling intimidated.”

But, when he went on stage he said a calmness came over him making him making him feel comfortable in making his presentation.