"HAVE A HEART"
Many years ago, the Toronto Hardware show was one of the largest of its kind in North America, probably only second in size and scope to the famous Chicago House wares show. In my business, as a Manufacturer’s agent and a small manufacturer, I was obliged to attend both. I was specializing primarily in House wares but looking always for a new hardware product that would catapult my little company into the real Big Time. My booth in Toronto expanded from a modest standard showcase to a two floor booth with a lounge on the second floor. Our customers were able to discuss larger deals in privacy as well as rest and enjoy refreshments. My company was doing very well and I was obliged to hire more than just a secretary; the time came for more help to assist with the day to day problems that all companies have as well as service many smaller accounts. As large as the house wares business was in Canada, not too many good sales people were available for very long before some company would snap them up.
When I heard that George Walker was cut loose from his position as sales manager of a well known hair care company, I thought that he would be just the right fit for our expanding company. George was a tall strong middle aged man that looked as if he had stepped off the billboard of the Marlboro cigarette advertisement. To compliment George’s credits, he had been a WW2 and Korean War fighter pilot. George had a great personality and many declined shaking his hand because of his hearty grip. Everyone liked George and when it was announced that he had joined my company, I was pleased to hear the remarks of congratulations.
I was well aware that appearance and personality went a long way to the making of a successful business man. Aside from the fact that I was a very good salesman and aggressive, I did obtain a very lucrative line because I was a male, white Anglo Saxon Wasp. In Hog Town Toronto in the 60’s and 70’s that was a big plus. George, I thought, was all of these things and had one additional asset, his maturity.
February weather in Toronto for the Hardware show is never pleasant. It is always bitter cold and dull and often windy. My two stalwart young sales people Sue and Ed were with me at the Coliseum for another week of grinding work setting up, working the show and then packing it up. We were often one of the first in the building and certainly the last to pull away from the loading doors at the end of the show.
I had purchased a four storey Georgian house on Richmond Street, almost in the shadow of the CN Tower. It was a great location and it worked very well for many years as showrooms and offices, and on the top floor we set up an apartment for overnight guests. How things change over the years. All the major accounts that had their head offices in the downtown core have moved to the suburbs and a downtown address is not so important anymore.
I found it hard to get a good secretary so when Joan offered to take on the job, I was delighted. George shared a large office with me, with Joan‘s office adjoining. I couldn’t have designed a better plan for our needs. This old building was formerly a rooming house before we took it over and a lot of sweat and effort was dealt with before we put it to our standards.
I arrived back at the office very late to find my newly renovated building in a very sorry condition. It was apparent that Joan and George had had a lot of visitors. There were tracks from heavy duty boots and trucks in the snow at the front of the building and when I entered my pristine front hall, and saw the mud tracking through the hall and up the stairs, I knew that there was a serious problem. Where was – anybody?
Joan finally appeared and that was a relief. At least she was OK. She explained in her calm and controlled way that everything was as it should be until she was startled by George’s moaning. Joan determined that he was having a heart attack and emergency service was required at once. 911 was pretty new but what a wonderful service under circumstances like this. Firemen and paramedics were on the scene in minutes and George was whisked away for treatment and eventually to go under the knife for open heart surgery.
Open heart surgery was only just being discussed by the general public. For many, it was a subject to be left for the professionals in the medical field. Who could even envision a human heart laid open for prodding and probing even by the most advanced doctors in the cardiac profession? This was a new medical breakthrough and apparently our George was a perfect candidate. He was a big man, strong and in great physical condition, except for a faulty engine. If this could be fixed, George could have many more years of productive life ahead of him. If not, we didn’t want to discuss the alternative.
Toronto’s East General Hospital was very close to our office and that is where the procedure was to take place. This was to be a first for both George and for the hospital and as far as I was able to conclude the first to be done in Toronto and perhaps even in Canada.
The Hardware show opened as it had for years gone by but without the presence of our friend George. Word spread through the show so that by the end of the first day, we were inundated by exhibitors and customers with questions as to his condition and when he would have this new and radical surgery. We were as much in the dark as anyone else except for George’s immediate family. – We were all family now.
George recovered from his ordeal but his recovery time would be some weeks or months and being a small business, after a few months I was obliged to release my friend. George understood completely. I think he was relieved not to have to return to work. Not so his wife. She felt that the income should go on until her husband could return to his duties. I secretly think she would have preferred him out of the house.
To-day, this procedure is common and when Joan went through it three years ago, I was assured that the success rate was very high. She was home in four days much to my surprise.