Thursday, April 30, 2009


Once upon a time, no this is not fiction, and it is not about politics...just a totally true story. Back some 40 years ago, I was working for a Television Advertising Sales firm in Chicago. One of our biggest clients held an annual sales meeting and this particular gathering was held at a nice resort between Cadillac and Traverse City, Michigan.

After two days of intense sales meetings where each of the client’s television stations made presentations, and our company which represented those stations’ interests in the major cities of the country made our pitches. The actual purpose of the gathering was to review performance of the past year and then forecast sales for the coming year. At the conclusion there was a big dinner party where sales awards were presented for the best and even the worst achievements, all in good humor. Following the dinner everyone adjourned for more cocktails and cards in a huge private room.

The card game was an event that I had learned to avoid, because if you happened to beat the client’s big boss you would hear about it for the entire next year. I would designate myself as the unofficial drink server. Big Bill who was my boss and owner or our company played “client cards” for a while, but adjourned to the bar for one of his famous WHITEYS, which consisted of vodka on the rocks with a splash of water and several dashes of Tabasco sauce. Actually, the drink was anything but a WHITEY, because it was pink.

After several WHITEYS, Big Bill was leaning his chair back against the wall while the card game was going full blast. Suddenly, Big Bill crashed to the floor, and not a soul looked up from the intense card game. Our Manager from St. Louis, Fred, rushed to Big Bill’s assistance and tried to get him upright. Instead of getting a friendly word of appreciation Bill loudly said, “Get your hands off me or you’re fired.” Fred jumped back shocked and looked at me, and I rendered my advice to back off and let me intercede.

I tried to get Big Bill upright, but required Fred’s added assistance, which he did reluctantly because he feared Bill’s further wrath. As we eased Big Bill toward the door to go to his room, he shook us off grabbing the door knobs. Big Bill then boomed that he was going to his room as soon as he could get the /*.+#!-@*# door open as he frantically and in a stupor turned the knobs on both sides of the door.

Fred and I got Big Bill to his room and he was in dreamland almost immediately. We returned to the hospitality room and there was nary a mention of the recent happenings as the card game continued with great passion. With everyone returning to their respective homes the next day, the evening came to a close at a respectable hour.

The next morning everyone was busy packing and getting to the resort’s dining room for breakfast. Shortly after I arrived at the table, Big Bill slipped into the chair next to me expressing his desire for a big glass of water and a huge breakfast. The incident of the previous evening was never mentioned and happily Fred kept his job. I will never know, but I doubt that Big Bill even remembered the incident of the previous evening.

When the waitress delivered Big Bill a half of grapefruit he gave it several shots of the Tabasco bottle and then dove into a huge omelet with toast. As he ate he leaned over to me and in a very low voice asked “Do you think I called Edith last night?” (Edith was his wife and they lived in a lavish apartment in Evanston. I responded with, “I don’t know.”

Checking out of the resort we all made our way to the Traverse City airport and boarded our flights homeward. Big Bill and I were then based in Chicago and as we flew over Lake Michigan he asked me several times “Do you really think I called Edith last night?” Each time I told him, Bill I have no idea, because I was not with you. Once we landed at O’Hare Airport, Big Bill (who was not only my boss, but the owner of the company) announced that he was heading home to Evanston, because his “colitis was kicking up.” I thought nothing of it, because that was one of the privileges of ownership and being the boss.

It took me about an hour to get to my office at Prudential Plaza in downtown Chicago. I do not think I was in my Office more that a few minutes when my private line rang. It was Bill and in a hushed tone he asked if everything was OK at the office, and then whispered “I called Edith” immediately hanging up. I knew he was in the doghouse at home and I couldn’t help but roar with laughter. I then had to explain my reaction to my inquiring secretary.

Knowing Big Bill, I was certain that he would shortly be enroute to the local liquor store to secure a peace offering of a bottle of Pinch scotch for the lovely Edith.

To say that Big Bill was a complex individual is an understatement. He was a unique guy, a great boss, and a fun individual to be around. In hindsight he was not a very good businessman, but he left that to his New York President and me as Executive Vice-President in Chicago.

Unfortunately Fred died in St. Louis when he was in this early 70’s of Alzheimer’s. Big Bill’s first wife died in California, his lovely friend and companion of many years, Lee, died of cancer in New York, Bill later relocated from New York to the Chicago area and married Lee’s sister, the aforementioned Edith, and they retired to Scottsdale, AZ where many years later they both died of Alzheimer’s just a few years apart.

Many years after his retirement and sale of the company, my associate from New York and I visited Big Bill in a lovely care facility the week before he died. When I saw him that last time he was making eyes at a lovely young nurse’s aide who was playing a guitar and singing to him. He never changed even in his last days on earth. I remember going into the hallway and crying with Edith, because I knew that would be the last time I would see Big Bill alive.

The incident recounted above occurred well before there were computers and business included plenty of drinking and entertaining in those days. To say that Big Bill was socially active was an understatement, because I frequently wonder why he had not been shot by a jealous husband or his dear lady friend Lee. By the time he married Edith, he had slowed down and only had an active eye for the ladies.

Life with Big Bill and his company was a wondrous twenty-nine year ride, and one I would not trade for a million dollars. They just don’t make them like Big Bill anymore.


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