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My thousandth person is a manufacturing business

BY KEN WHITACR

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I have a Rudyard Kipling poem on the wall in my house that Jim installed and framed. He gave it to me the year he and Debbie got married. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was 1999, 20 years since we first met.

1999 was the year Jim and I found the women of our dreams and we began new chapters in our lives. He and Debbie were married in September of that year, and I was married in November of the following year.

Name of the poem:

The thousandth man

One in a thousand, Solomon says:
He will be closer than a brother.
You should spend half a day looking for it
If you find it before the other one.

Nine hundred and ninety-nine dependents
What does the world see in you?
But the thousandth person will stand up to your friend
You are with the whole world.

This is the story of Jim and I being each other’s thousandth person…

When I was 18, I left home and family and boarded a Greyhound bus from Kentucky to Ithaca, New York to attend Cornell University. I was alone, weighed 150 pounds soaking wet and had a funny accent. I struggled my first semester taking courses that were way above my level. Although I basically had a scholarship, I had to work part-time for my room and board.

The only things that brought me happiness were playing wide receiver on the lightweight football team and singing in the student union with a few friends I worked with. It was one of my friends who suggested I check out the fraternity.

Sigma Phi had a reputation as an “anti-fraternity” fraternity, and it admitted only 10 members per year. Unlike other houses where you just show up and have a beer, this fraternity had an extensive interview selection process. Jim and I came home “in a hurry” and we met around this time in November 1979.

You couldn’t imagine two completely different people… He was chubby, with a weird Long Island accent, and a funny smile. I was skinny, had a southern accent, and had a total smile. He is Jewish and comes from an upper/middle class family. I was a Christian and from the projects.

But somehow, none of that mattered…

He just started asking me questions. He seemed interested in my life story. He looked for the common qualities that we have in each other. We learned that we each played the lead in high school plays. We both played a little guitar. We liked the same music.

I was amazed at how smart he was from that first conversation. He seemed to know a lot about almost everything. He was the first teenager I ever met who read the Wall Street Journal every day!

How does an 18-year-old know so much? It still amazes me how genius he was.

Fast forward a couple of years and we were such good friends that we would help each other with homework. He even helped me get a scholarship so my fraternity rent was free.

His mind was off the charts, but his grammar needed help. My grammar was much better, but I lacked the depth of thought to formulate a solid argument.

During the break, we took a closer look at our world. I went to his house on Long Island and he took me to my first Broadway show. One spring break he took us to Kentucky where he met my family and friends. I took him fishing and he caught the biggest fish I have ever seen. I went on vacation with his family to Curacao and even took a day trip to Venezuela on that trip.

Unfortunately, my father passed away in my final year at the age of 21, and my world seemed to fall apart. Who was going to pick me up?

Jim arrived the night before the funeral with food in hand. He somehow enlivened our sad, lonely evenings and took us all out for dinner every night.

After college, Jim worked for his dad at the Hunts Point Market, I worked a few jobs and went to graduate school at Columbia. It was in 1985 that our friendship turned into a business relationship.

Business production he had an idea. He saw an opportunity where the two of us could shape the manufacturing industry by focusing on the needs of our customers.

He wanted me to be his right hand, to help him with his words and creative vision. I jumped at the chance and put graduate school aside.

The rest is history… 38 years of publishing hundreds of thousands of great words, three international events, countless projects helping companies succeed.

But Jim and I kept learning from each other. Both of us had an insatiable desire for knowledge. Every year we studied new subjects: Churchill, Lincoln, Architecture, Bible history, art, psychology, poetry… Our library grew and grew every year.

A month ago we used to give each other books.

I could go on and on, but here’s what I’m trying to say:

Everyone knows how great Jim was at storytelling, and the story I just told doesn’t hold a candle to the way Jim captivated an audience. But I’d like Jim to help me analyze everything… The best I can muster is this:

The two words that best describe Jim are CONSUMED NUTRITION.

His wish nourishes our body with food and nourishes our mind his judgments were limitless.

In many ways it is nourished our souls.

How many of you have been fed by Jim’s table and hospitality? Do many of you feel smarter or more informed from meeting Jim?

Basically he is He fed us with his “Fruits of Thought”..

Jim sure loves food. But he really loved the company. Partnership. By the way, the word company means “bread together” in Latin — TSUM (together) and BREAD (bread). Jim often used the phrase, “Let’s break bread together.” Now I think his words were much more important…

If I were to think of a biblical character that best describes Jim, my first instinct would be Solomon, and certainly no one in my life has more wisdom than Jim.

But it was Abraham who rushed out to meet the three strangers in Genesis 18.

He not only greeted with water, but also bowed, washed his feet and gave a big meal.

Abraham did not know, but God was one of those three strangers. It is in this chapter that the Lord told Abraham that he was chosen to be a great and mighty nation and that Abraham would guide his children and family in what was right and righteous.

Speaking of the household, everyone here knows how much Jim loves his kids. As you can imagine, both of his sons attend the world’s top hospitality schools, and both of them have studied extensively and absorbed every nuance. Disney is the happiest place on earth Under Jim’s care?

How many times did Jim invite strangers to dinner?

Once there was a random group of camp counselors from Europe who hosted Jim and Debbie one summer. I remember when Jim and I moved from New York to Florida, and the movers were Israelis – three strangers, to be exact. After they got the truck out, Jim invited them to dinner.

Who does this?

Who can forget the many meals that Jim always had on any given occasion to foot the bill?

Maybe something inside Jim was pointing to Abraham and the possibility that one of us could be God himself, and Jim just wanted to talk!

At the bottom of the Rudyard Kipling poem on my wall, Jim wrote, “To my thousandth man, from you.”

I will be forever honored.

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