Every man, woman and child on the planet Earth—and the handful of humans currently aboard the International Space Station—has a story to tell. Trundling along down here on highways and byways, in towns large and small, it’s customary for us to exchange them from time to time.
The locations of such intellectual commerce are known by many names; pubs, roadhouses, hotel bars—take your pick. In San Luis Obispo County, north of the Cuesta Grade, the venue of choice is often a wine tasting room or outdoor event with ample shade. As a journalist, there is usually a degree of disambiguation involved with this end of the exchange, “No, I’m not that kind of writer,” or “Sorry, I actually can’t put you on TV.”
The refrain, “I’ve got a story for you,” followed by, “Hey, you should write about me,” is a common prelude to a tale without many publishable merits. The most interesting stories come from people who, while maintaining an outgoing social demeanor, are not necessarily in need of an audience. It is far better when they’re willing to share because of what morsel of truth, of personality, one has offered in return.
Templeton-based property broker Scott Mathews is an affable fellow, with a business, Oak View Properties, which his website describes as, “in the Heart of Paso Robles Wine Country.” A fan of, “big bold reds ‘Paso Style’,” he was still happy to pose for a photo pouring a Viognier while manning a booth for a friend at the Paso Robles Wine Festival in May. He’s generally eager to glad-hand any community members or potential clients and give them a business card with one of the region’s iconic oaks above his name.
As a broker with a long career in the Central Coast banking industry behind him, his main goal, he says is to well, help others reach their goals.
“What I do is come to the client from a place of service and helping out as an advocate in the process. Especially telling you if you’re being underpaid or overpaying,” he notes as a brief outline, “It’s fine to decide to do that, but the game plan has to reflect your personal goals.”
It’s not, at least wasn’t in this case, until a later conversation and a chance meeting at one of the aforementioned venues that some of Mathews more philosophical kernels of advice for clients are given stark clarity, “I tell people while they’re looking, ‘don’t love anything that doesn’t love you back.’”
That is, to resist the fixation on a particular property, “feel attached to people but don’t get attached to things that aren’t actually yours yet.”
It’s good advice. Particularly interesting since the broker himself seems rooted to the home he first built in Templeton after moving his growing family up from Santa Maria in the early-2000s.
“We found the lifestyle and home that fit our lives here,” he said, “a safe wonderful community where everyone looks out for each other. Good schools, it’s very Norman Rockwell.”
There’s a pall of sadness though when he opens up about his road in pursuit of the Central Coast version of the “American Dream.”
The conversation, and subject, was prompted in a discussion of a recent piece in this Journal, on the life, and death by apparent assisted suicide, of local wine industry figure Archie McLaren.
The deaths of public figures always serve to spark discussion, sometimes maudlin, amongst the rest of us. Making this talk different however was Mathews’ lingering personal experience with the kind of terminal cancer diagnosis and pain that led McLaren to seek hospice care and eventually a heavy dose of controlled medication.
“If my wife had been an older woman, if the kids had been grown and out of the house already, she would have gone to hospice,” he explained, “but no one talks about what the disease does to the young … The doctor would prescribe enough doses to try and make her comfortable … you know there are all these things they’ll give you if you’re ready to die, but when you’re just trying to live a little longer … I was threatened with the police several times going to pharmacies [all over SLO County] to get her doses.”
Scott’s wife—who he remembers as the young vibrant woman he met in high school but fell in love with in their 20s, bought a house with and married in 1999—Melody Mathews, died on February 1, 2014. By that time she’d suffered broken vertebrae, survived a heart surgery removing a clot, which could have killed her instantly and was on doses of pain medication unheard of outside of hospitals and hospice.
Particularly because in sharing elements of his life with a writer Scott Mathews hoped to provide a few takeaways for readers, pain feels dominant and even final as an end to a story. It is always tempting to dwell in moments of pain and loss. But those in the Templeton community who know the family already know how that chapter ended, that it wasn’t, in fact, an end. And lest anything be lost in the narrative the explicit points are these:
For the Mathews daughters, now 11 and 16, there’s nothing here they don’t know, but Dad says that “in a lot of ways they’re stronger than me.” Their mother, Melody, felt that every last moment with them was worth fighting for. Perhaps it’s not a lesson for others, but it is an example.
Melody was 34 when she found a lump in her breast. Three days after the lumpectomy surgery, she shattered her leg in a minor fall at home. The cancer had spread to the bones and was in Stage 4 before detected. Scott believes it would have been caught earlier had she ignored advice that “she was too young,” and went ahead with a mammogram when she’d discussed it with a doctor the year before. So, “don’t wait, get screened,” is an important lesson.
And to the Templeton community which has been home to his family for over a decade, “I can never thank our neighbors and this community enough,” he said. “When Melody was sick we got so much food from everyone we had to start finding other people to share it with.”
Scott Mathews’ journey starts some time before all of that though. Out of high school and not yet in what he would call a career, he was taking odd jobs in construction and plumbing.
“The moment of clarity was sometime in the early ’90s. I was in this tight space under a house, no room to move and reaching up to solder pipes together,” he explained, “and I thought, ‘What if I catch myself on fire?’ There wasn’t any way out. I could hear my dad in my head go- ing, ‘What are you doing with your life boy?’”
So he started taking business administration courses at the University of La Verne, a private university with a unique campus on an Air Force base, he recalled, “I wasn’t in the service but we had to get through the checkpoint to attend.”
After two years, his first finance job was at one of the Bank of America branches inside a grocery store, “it’s an interesting place to start in banking because nobody wants to be there. I learned everything about the place, things no one was bothering to, about how it worked.”
“It’s not glamorous work but in a short time I was VP of the branch,” he said, noting the stepping stones he took to Mid-State Bank where he started dealing in credit administration and commercial real estate banking.
“To be in banking is an interesting job because it forces you out into the community. I did a lot of Chamber [of Commerce] mixers,” he added, starting with work in Arroyo Grande and moving north as the jobs changed. “I got good at getting to know people one on one and understanding their situations…It’s not as impersonal as people think. Now with properties it’s about making a deal for an individual based on what I learned doing those numbers.”
That art of finding the real value to someone is based in other experience as well. His current family home was bought with the intent of developing some properties himself in the north county, plans undone by the 2003 San Simeon earthquake then the 2008 market crash, although, he adds it didn’t hurt as much later on.
“I was driving up from the south county every day to Paso. So for that we decided we’d better buy up here, but also Melody and I knew what things had been like for us growing up. We decided we wanted our kids to have this environment instead,” he said. “I went to work for the First Bank of San Luis right before the downturn and right before she got sick.”
Until that point they had a version of the American Dream, “So I had just started this great new job with great pay, a signing bonus, on my way to everything we’d worked for…and she found the lump.”
“It’s so much worse for a young woman. They don’t tell you that, but when your body is active with hormone cycles and it [cancer] grows unchecked, well she had a wonderful doctor and she did go into remission,” he said. “but, it riddled her whole body.
As the process unfolded over years, the banking industry transformed as well.
Union Bank bought out Santa Barbara Bank and Trust where Mathews was then employed, “so I turned the page. I already had the brokerage license, and needed a more flexible life.”
“What I’m doing for a business now is help others find what to get out of being here,” he said. “In a small town, it really isn’t too cliche to say we all know each other…and we have to be honest with each other.”
Camas Frank has been a San Luis Obispo County print journalist for over a decade. First drawn to the Central Coast for a stint at Cal Poly, he’s focused on community affairs, people and technology.