Today was a pretty sad day. No tears were shed, at least not in public, but you could see it in the eyes. It was a sad day. Sure, just like at a funeral. While the deceased is laid out for viewing and the mood is sober in the immediate area of the casket, in the rear of the room there may be laughter and voices, smiles and hugs, as old friends stopped on by and said hello.
Yes, while this was like a funeral, it wasn’t a passing of a friend, but the end of the road of a business that met so many challenges that had always beat the odds and rose above the challenges. You see, today was the day all of the heavy machinery, the equipment, tools and what was left of raw materials of Lunar Tool, was sold at auction. Lunar Tool’s assets had to be foreclosed upon to settle a debt, but it wasn’t Terry’s debt. You see, Terry started the business after he learned a trade, and after he picked cotton in Arkansas and realized he did not want to pick cotton in Arkansas or anywhere else for the rest of his life.
I suspect he is like a lot of us in those regards, having done some job in the past that is so distasteful that you just knew that you wanted to do something else, anything else, other than whatever you did before. For Terry, it was cotton picking. The stories he told of being a young boy dragging a cotton sack probably at least twice as long as he was tall and probably weighing in the same proportions, motivated him to leave that hardscrabble life that didn’t offer much hope for a chance in the big city. Terry moved to St. Louis, learned the metal machining trades and became not only proficient, but a natural, at understanding not only the business of metal trades but also the business of people.
Terry is a “salt of the earth” type of a person. He respected integrity, regardless of your walk of life. And he would give a person a second chance, but not repeatedly. He didn’t suffer fools willingly.
I did not know Terry for his whole life, and that is my regret, because I am certain from the stories I have heard he was a great guy to always have at your side. No, I met Terry quite by chance over 25 years ago. His then wife and he were going through a divorce, jeopardizing the very existence of the company he had worked so hard to build, and as he liked to point out as even more important, risking the livelihood of 53 persons. He counted not just the employees, but those the employees’ supported – wives, children, parents. Each of those was someone he knew, and for whom he genuinely cared. Both he and his wife were directors of the corporation, and if he said blue, she said red, and if he said go, she said stop. The company just could not go on.
So Terry’s divorce attorney went to court and asked for the appointment of a provisional director and I was appointed. Although the proverbial ship was righted and sailed somewhat smoothly, there was enough choppy water to realize that the company could not go on long term, and eventually the business was sold. Fortunately, one of his employees had just inherited money and was in the position to successfully bid for the company through a court auction. So technically, the company was liquated, but the new owner, the former employee and then the new employer, kept operating the business under the same name. A few years later, after Terry’s divorce was behind him, he was in a position to buy the company back and the former employee and then current employer was all too willing to shed the weight of being a business owner, and so the company came back into Terry’s hands.
The company prospered. Terry bought a new building with machinery purchased at a great price (some would say an almost steal) and business blossomed from there. Nearing 60 years of age, Terry sought a buyer for the company and he found one, but he had to provide seller’s financing by taking back a promissory note, the payment of which was secured by the equipment he was selling.
Although ten years passed with payments made roughly on time, the promissory note was a 15-year note, and more recently, not only were the payments under the note delinquent, but also the rent on the building, which Terry also owned. Eventually the new owner defaulted, not only with Terry, but also with the new owner’s bank, and the house of cards collapsed.
So today, after the auction company had cleaned up the equipment, removed outdated and broken pieces of equipment in the shop and hauled them off, swept the place and placed everything in some sort of an order, an auction of hundreds of lots of tools and equipment was held. Terry worked long and hard for his company, and I know he would have loved for the company to continue, ideally under the name he had given it, but even under a different name, he would have been proud he started that business. But fate just did not let it happen.
Sure, all of the machinery was silent, not the hum and buzz and vibrations I had witnessed for so long every time I visited Terry’s shop. It was quiet, the machinery like a deceased person, present, but for family and friends, a long look, and that was enough. But there were plenty of hugs, kisses and firm handshakes, jokes and stories. Life goes round and round and a passing of a business is just part of life. I wish for my dear friend Terry that such did not have to come to pass. It did, and he will survive, and the world was better for having had Terry run a great shop, provide livelihoods for 53 and more people, and show true integrity and honor in how one conducts not just their business, but their life.
Terry, you are a good man and you will do well. Thank you for being who you are, and being a mentor to many.