I was headed out the door to grab a bite for lunch because someone had eaten the soup I had stored in the fridge for lunch. I guess they needed the soup more than I did…just another day at Bud’s Warehouse. On my way across the parking lot I noticed an older gentleman looking lost after riding his bike up to the building. That’s how I met Eugene.
One of the great dangers of leadership is becoming so busy that there are no margins for the unexpected encounters with others. Eugene wanted to meet with someone at the Good Neighbor Garage but they weren’t expecting him and wouldn’t be back for an hour. I asked Eugene if he wanted to wait around until they got back. He asked if there was a restaurant nearby. I suggested he join me for lunch. He jumped at offer and joined me in a short car ride. That’s when I learned the story of Eugene. And what a story it was.
Eugene spent time in the Pacific theater during World War II. After the battle of Okinawa, he borrowed a boat for a short tour and rowed up to the journalist Ernie Pyle by accident. Ernie found out that he knew how to run a camera and soon he was on the job taking pictures of famous dignitaries and military officers. This launched his career as a freelance photojournalist. He was on the road taking pictures of presidents-- he was particularly fond of Harry Truman-- and other celebrities. His pictures appeared in numerous publications including Life Magazine. Eugene’s career took a brief hiatus in the late 1940’s when he spent time as an actor in Hollywood appearing in commercials and a few movies. Eugene spent time in Brooklyn so I asked him if he’d ever watched Joe DiMaggio. “Watched him…heck I took pictures of him.”
I lost track of time as Eugene shared his story. He remarked it was time for me to get back to work. We drove to Bud’s. He gave me his card and asked me to call. I suggested lunch in the future and he thought that was “a super idea.”
After three conversations with 80 year-old individuals over the past week, I am reminded that we all need to slow down and listen to the stories of others. I’ve learned of families hiding Jews from the Nazis, business owners fleeing to America to escape Hitler, and an individual with a unique role in capturing the photographic history of America. The greatest generation has a lot to teach us but their voices are quickly fading away. I am convinced that God created humans because he likes good stories.