The Legacy of a Handwritten Letter

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 15, Issue No. 6b
October 15, 2016

By Dan Coughlin


In 1968 I was six years old. My mom sat at the kitchen table and wrote letter after letter with her beautiful cursive penmanship.

She wrote thank you letters, letters to stay in touch with people, and letters to learn about organizations. She had a 5 x 7 pad of paper and wrote and wrote and wrote. This wasn’t unusual. We didn’t have an electric typewriter for at least five more years, and it was a long time before personal computers were built.

Mom made all six kids write letters to people for all sorts of reasons.

When I graduated from college my first job was as a college head soccer coach. I needed players because I was starting up a brand-new program. So I sent typed letters to 1800 players across the U.S. to try to get fifteen or so to come to Tri-State University in Angola, Indiana. These were form letters, but then I wrote the person’s name and a couple of sentences on all 1800 letters.

Eddie came from Dallas to play for me, and he scored the winning goal in the state tournament for our team in his freshman year. After the game I asked him why we were so lucky to have him on our team. He said, “You were the only coach who took the time to write something on my recruiting letter. I felt a personal connection with you.” I can see Eddie’s face right now more than 30 years later. Thank you Mom!

I have encouraged all of my executive coaching clients to write handwritten letters for the past nineteen years.

Karen was a senior executive for McDonald’s USA. She was remarkably polished and professional. I encouraged her to write handwritten letters to owner/operators and their staff members as often as she could to develop more of a personal touch relationship. She started writing them every single week. She kept a stack of special paper at her desk, and just wrote letter after letter.

People would call her up and say they had kept her letters in a special place. When she went to visit them she found her letters were hanging on the walls of some people. She had no idea her letters meant so much to them. One letter was framed and put above the person’s desk. From then on whenever Karen gave someone an award, she had it framed and wrote three or four sentences on the award. Many years later people still had those awards with the handwritten note hanging up. Thank you Mom!

A great friend of mine named Jeff heard about my mom’s idea on writing letters. He is the VP of sales for a medical device company. He started writing letters to all of his team members. One of those people put Jeff’s letter on his refrigerator. One day his in-laws were visiting and read the letter, and were totally impressed that his boss would take the time to write a handwritten letter to his employees. Thank you Mom!

My sister, Cathy, rose to be the Chief Global Marketing Officer for AT&T because she was extremely smart and an incredibly hard worker. And because she built a ton of great relationships. When she passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2015, we found among her things several sheets of paper with lists of names that she crossed out. She was writing thank you letters to people, and then crossing them off as she wrote them. After she passed away my mom received hundreds of handwritten letters from people praising Cathy. Those letters are one of my mom’s treasures that she keeps in a special place in her apartment. Thank you Cathy!

Mom’s legacy of handwritten letters lives on.

Who can you write a letter to? Not a short note. I mean a letter. Five or six paragraphs. A real letter. Not “Great seeing you!” and your signature. I mean a real letter where you express your thoughts and emotions about the other person. Particularly a letter of gratitude. Start writing them, and don’t ever stop.

You will build stronger relationships and leave a greater legacy than you ever thought possible.

Thank you Mom!

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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