Sunday, August 16, 2009

Il n’est pas ici

My former employer died recently. I attended his memorial service yesterday. He was a fascinating, and sadly tragic, figure. He and his wife founded the wine business that I worked for for many years. He was a great businessman, and I say that very guardedly.

In the service yesterday, he was described as type A lone wolf, which I find absolutely accurate. He was very much focused on business success, as his own children declared. His 2nd wife was an ameliorating influence, so that the two families (she had been married previously, as well) were able to come together. All of which is largely out of my experience. What I witnessed was a person with great integrity.

He had a certified vision of how a business should be run, and ran it that way. The wine business was a late career project, he had already been extremely successful starting and running several businesses, in semi conductors. As a note to the vision of this business, it was carrying both of the American wines that beat French ones in a blind tasting back in the 70s before this tasting, and put American wines on the map.

This wine business was a wonderful efflorescence of his relationship with his 2nd wife. There was something Shakespearian about him. He divorced his first wife soon after his mother died. His children were in their teens. It turns out that I went to high school with his daughter but I never knew her. His wife brought wine knowledge and an aesthetic sense to the business, Jim brought business know how. Together, they managed to grow a business.

Me, I have always been wary of business, yet I learned to value his vision. Our world is one of transactions. If these transactions can be made with a sense of integrity and balance, maybe it is like respiration, maybe it is a living process.

His genius became evident when he (at his wife’s urging) began to pull back from the business. She wanted him to relax, something we who worked for him did not think was entirely possible, the concept being so foreign to the Jim that we knew. The people who “replaced” him did not, and when he finally sold the business, it totally lost rudder. I weathered this difficult time, and endeavoured to maintain the integrity that I understood was central to the business.

A few years ago, Lucie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He consulted with his oldest son-in-law on ways to help Lucie. It turned out that Jim too suffered Alzheimer’s. They were living in a managed care facility, because Lucie had some walking issues. Everything seemingly was set up properly. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease somehow considered an exception to the managed care promise. The facility to refused to manage that specific care.

We visited Jim and Lucie last year. Lucie was bubbly tho forgetful. Jim however… They were not allowed to cohabitate because Jim tended toward violence. Think of it, an executive who had lost his executive function! When we visited, he clearly made an effort to be there. He was largely lucid, but with holes.


Lucie’s son said that soon after Jim came to the facility where Lucie had been installed, they were discovered walking hand in hand down a busy road outside of Boston. Their intention was to go to Lexington (where I was born) to buy a house. They were a loving couple.

It is terrible to think of what Jim lost. He was without gyro. My father, in his dementia, was confused. Everyday, seemingly, he would speak of going back home, meaning 125 Fresh Pond Avenue in Cambridge, where he grew up. He was not type A, but he lost grasp of who I was. As he was struggling for his last breath, he gestured me to leave. I was ready to be there till his last breath but he refused that.

This ramble is really a sad admittance on my part. I saw something really valuable in how Jim and Lucie, together, did business. They were keen enough to see what I could offer, for which I am grateful. Alexander the so called Great died young, and then his body was fought over as earnest of whatever effing magic that could be carried on. Jim died, but something remains.

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