During my early years with the organization, I worked in a satellite building located roughly 20 miles from headquarters. Although he only made an appearance at our building a few times a year, Gil had a large and lovely office set up there. And despite the respectful, hushed tones used by our supervisors whenever he was around, he always had a smile for us peons.
I was in my early twenties when I first met him personally. We both participated in the company golf tournament the year I partnered with my mother. Mom was a terrible golfer, but a great and witty lady. She and Gil, contemporaries, immediately hit it off and I believe there may even have been some flirting taking place. She talked about the encounter for many years, respectful of my boss as well as the great organization he and his family had built.
My next encounters with Gil took place once a year each spring, when he would deliver his prized azaleas to our headquarters garage in black, plastic pots. He propagated these himself and would sell them to employees for $5 each. Employees would look forward to the event and line up in the dark, exhaust-filled parking garage to wait for his pick-up truck to arrive. I lived in an apartment but did not want to miss out on this unique tradition, so on several occasions I purchased 3 or 4 azaleas for my parents’ yard.
A good work friend was once asked to fill in for Gil’s administrative assistant, a woman who had worked for him for many years. At this time, both she and Gil were in their seventies, and she was on some sort of long term medical leave. Pat was thrilled to be invited to serve in this capacity. Gil was no longer president of the organization, but did serve as Chairman of the Board, and Pat had always respected and admired him. Gil was not in the office full time so Pat would occasionally invite us to Gil’s lavish office for a picnic lunch. The walls were covered with historic memorabilia and photos of Gil and various U.S. Presidents, and he had his own executive full bath.
Pat would actually wind up working for Gil for years, but in those early days, we were only permitted to visit him on days when he knew Gil would not be in. Pat once availed himself of Gil’s restroom and clogged the toilet. To his dismay he received a call from Gil saying he was on his way in. Pat plunged and plunged but the clog was so stubborn he said he nearly scooped the offending deuce out with his own hands so Gil would not know what he had deposited in his executive restroom. (Fortunately, he was able to clear the clog just before the Chairman arrived.)
Nowadays, Gil, well into his eighties, only comes to the office occasionally, and his digs have gotten considerably smaller. He’s no longer officially on staff, receives no pay, and I just learned today that he does not even have an identification badge to get him past security. Most of the newer employees here do not know him by sight, but those of us who can remember his signature on our paychecks always look forward to seeing him in the elevator or in the staff cafeteria. He is as gregarious as ever.
During my mother’s last years, she spent many hours at her kitchen table looking out on her yard, and the neighbors, and any wildlife that may have happened by. And towards the very end, her eyesight was nearly gone. But that last spring, she was sure to ask if Gil’s azaleas were blooming. I look around at this institution and think, yes.