This morning, I am struggling with how I should pay tribute to a man who had quietly been a weight-bearing beam for me for much of my business life.
Yesterday, I received a FB message from Donnie Sowers sharing that his father had died the day before.
There have been few people who have impacted and influenced me as much as his dad had during the thirty-three years I knew him.
I met Don back in early 1993, shortly after I was hired to help build a funeral home on the grounds of Forest Hills Cemetery, just outside Philadelphia, PA. In soliciting for bids for our signage, I met Don. I was a 33 year old who barely knew what I was doing and he was an owner of a “monster”, sign fabricating company. Someone of his standing didn’t need to be spending time with a little guy like me, but in retrospect, maybe his humbleness was one of the ways he grew it to “monster status”. (Monster being defined as a “go-to sign guy” for casinos and sports stadiums around the world)
We were philosophically congruent, politically and socially, staying in contact over the years. I get excited easily and tend to act too fast. While it is probably a simplification, Don never appeared shaken by anything, even his impending death.
In 1999, when Alicia and I were trying to buy the funeral business in Aiken, with very little equity to infuse, Don was one of the guys on my unofficial board of directors. Because there were so many stumbling blocks on the way to closing, we were running out of money. Knowing this, Don wired us $14,000.00 to help carry us to closing. It was a verbal, no interest loan which was paid back a few days after we took over. His only request was that someday, when I was in the position to help someone as he helped me, to do so. We have complied.
It was back in September of 2013 that he reached out to tell me that he had been diagnosed with what can easily be defined as a life threatening illness. He asked if I could help him get affairs in order to make it easier for his wife and kids when the time came. We had that surreal discussion and I introduced him to a funeral director friend near where he lived and he took it from there.
I took him to lunch on October 30, 2013 (electronic calendars are great tools for remembering) as I drove up to visit my parents in NJ. I talked with him a handful of times after that and we occasionally e-mailed back and forth and he shared a lttle about his treatments.
I realized yesterday that there was so much I didn’t know about him, but what I did know was good enough.
Donnie mentioned that it will be a week or so before the obituary is published and I will wait.
I suppose that Don, like all of us, was not perfect. That being said, I don’t know too many people with the “Smarts and Heart” that he had.
I doubt that I am the only one who will mss his counsel and friendship.