July 30, 2001,
Let me say at the outset that I never met Bob Widdess.
They included a broad representation of the industry, from its heavy hitters to moderate-sized players: Chip Fontenot and Bob Dale of WestPoint Stevens, John Minehan of Louisville Bedding, Patsy Pollack of Donna Karan Home, Mike, Doug and David Kahn of Croscill, former WestPoint Stevens chief Tom Ward, Park Smith and Park Smith Jr. of Park B. Smith, Rich Roman of Revman, Ryan Jones of Dormisette, Tom Klenert of Bess Manufacturing, Chip Scala of Scala International, Larry Queen of Sleep Innovations, Greg Lyon of Haywin Textiles, Lydia Irwin of Consoltex, Arnie Stevens of Maples, independent rep Tim Beck and former Fieldcrest president Gene McCarthy, to name a very few.
The gathering's planners had expected to draw about 100 people. As it turned out, there wasn't a seat to be had by the time the ceremony began.
Afterward, the crowd made its way to Haywin Textiles' showroom across the street to share stories and peruse the plaques, photographs and scrapbooks covering some of the events of Widdess's life.
It was remarkable to see so many suppliers turn out for a retailer.
Clearly, this was a man who made an impact on people's lives.
Widdess died earlier this month at the age of 57 after battling cancer for several years. Most recently vp for home for Macy's by Mail, he was a long-time executive at Strouds, where his accomplishments included the establishment of Strouds' highly regarded golf tournament that benefits the American Heart Association. His background also included a stint as dmm at Weinstock's.
Widdess was memorialized for many things.
His brothers recalled his sense of derring-do and competitiveness, his tour of duty in Vietnam and his love of flying.
Several colleagues described his obsession with golf and the relentless pace he kept on the course.
And everyone described him as a terrific guy. They talked about his good-naturedness. They talked about his even-handedness. They talked about his honesty. They talked about his sense of fair play in business.
In an era when relations between retailers and vendors seem to have devolved into a brutish business of who can take the bigger beating and survive, it was a wonderful thing to hear a retailer being hailed not only for his acumen, but also for his humanity.
There's not a lot of that around these days. Certainly, it's not because the retail industry is filled with mean people who want to make vendors' lives miserable. But it does raise the question about what the institution has become when a Widdess comes to be considered the exception rather than the rule.
As I said at the beginning of this column, I never met Bob Widdess. But, boy, I sure wish I had.