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Understanding what your mentor really meant

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NEW YORK

A couple of years ago I started to write this column. I think I am just starting to grasp what it was I thought I knew so well that day. And that was really the point.

I wrote then about the important role that our mentors play in our lives. I have been lucky enough to have had more than just a few in my lifetime.

At the time, I was writing mostly about one person—Brian Moroney, a former teacher of mine at Xavier High School. I won’t bore you here with too many details about Brian or Xavier, except to say that Moroney was more than just the guy who introduced me to Shakespeare and Hemingway, and Xavier was more than just the place I went to high school.

I know they both had a lot to do with why I became a writer, so I guess I have those guys to blame. I like to remind Xavier of that when they call my house looking for alumni donations every year. “Why don’t you call one of those rich guys you made into a lawyer?” I tell them. It never works. They still call me.

But this time, it’s not about Brian Moroney or Xavier. This time it’s about Jay Forbes. As you no doubt have heard by now, 2008 marks the victory lap for Jay, as he closes the book on a 45-year career built on serving the needs of our readers and advertisers at Drug Store News and some of the other titles published by our parent company Lebhar-Friedman. And doing it the whole time with that signature smile that, at times, seemed bigger than his entire head, and a glide in his stride that told you—if you didn’t already know it—that no matter what he was doing at the time, he would much rather be dancing. Unless he was talking to you, in which case, if you were a friend of his, there was no place on Earth that Jay Forbes would rather be at that moment.

Actually, Jay will tell you this isn’t the end of the book by any stretch of the imagination—just the end of a very long chapter. And, again, if you know Jay at all, you know that is absolutely true. He is a man of boundless energy and intense passion for his work and the people in his life, and it is impossible to imagine Jay ever really slowing down any more than you could imagine the earth could ever stop revolving on its axis.

Still, it is equally hard for me to imagine Jay not being a part of my life every day. Many of you in this industry have known Jay for much longer. But over the last dozen years I have had the pleasure to work very closely with Jay, and I would be completely remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the enormous impact he has had on me both as a a friend and a mentor.

Anybody who has spent any meaningful time in this industry has a story about Jay; about how crazy he is, about how funny he is, about how big his heart his, about how big his mind is; about how much he has meant to them in their lives and careers. This issue contains several pages of just those types of memories of Jay. I have many—some of which I really won’t get into here because Lebhar-Friedman is, after all, a family publication. Again, anyone who knows Jay knows what I am talking about.

But there is one story about Jay that I will share with you, and that’s because it strikes right at the very heart of who Jay is and what his friendship and counsel have meant to me through the years.

Like so many Jay stories you will hear, it was at my first NACDS Annual Meeting at The Breakers. Having been raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan between Central Park and Lincoln Center, it wasn’t like a I grew up any stranger to culture. Still, that first time at The Breakers, I was a little bit out of my element, to be sure, and attending meetings with presidents and chief executive officers from some of the biggest companies in a strange, new industry I knew very little about. It was one of those few times in my life that I was at a loss for words.

As we left an appointment with one retailer, Jay asked me why I didn’t say anything during the entire meeting. I told him I was new at this and really didn’t know what to say.

Completely incredulous, Jay looked at me and said, “What do you mean you don’t know what to say? Say anything. Watch this.”

Jay turned to the first person we bumped into—let’s call him Joe—and said, “Hey Joe; how you doing? When did you get in?”

Joe looked at Jay and said, “I got in yesterday. When did you get in?”

“I got in Friday morning,” Jay said. “When are you leaving?”

“I’m leaving Wednesday,” Joe answered. “When are you leaving?”

“I’m also leaving Wednesday,” Jay said. “Are you doing the fun-walk this year?”

“No, I think I am going to go fishing this time,” Joe said.

“No golf?” Jay asked.

“No, we played golf yesterday morning; our first meeting wasn’t until 2 p.m. so we squeezed in a quick round.”

“Will we see you at the L’Oreal party?” Jay asked, as the two began to move in opposite directions.

“Maybe we’ll catch you at the 3M party, Jay; we have a dinner reservation at 7:30 with the guys at [insert supplier’s name here],” Joe said.

We walked two or three more steps, before Jay turned to me and said, “You see? What do you need to know about? He and I just had an entire conversation about absolutely nothing.”

That night I watched Jay dance with what seemed like every woman who was staying at The Breakers, and at least a few more who worked there. That’s when I realized one of Jay’s greatest strengths is that he always seems comfortable in his own skin, and he wants you to be comfortable in yours, too. It also is the single-most valuable thing Jay ever taught me.

I mention Brian Moroney and Jay Forbes together here because they are related in a couple of very significant ways for me. You see, Moroney is one of a handful of teachers and mentors that, as a writer, helped me find my voice; Jay is one of a handful of people that taught me not to be afraid to use it.

And to be sure, they are both crazy.

I imagine that one thing that will change is that I probably will get a few less calls from Jay critiquing the most recent issue of Drug Store News. For years, every time he would call, just like the kids who work the Xavier “phone-a-thons” each year, I would ask him, “Why don’t you call one of those rich guys you helped make into a salesman and bug him?” It never worked. He still kept calling.

For the record, I hope he never stops calling me. Because I know that tomorrow I will understand much better the things I swore I knew so well today. And that really is the point. A mentor is more than someone who tells you stuff. A mentor is the guy who helps you understand what it all means. I have been lucky enough to have more than a few so far in my life. Jay Forbes is one of them.

So, thanks for everything you have done for me, Jay. I will miss you terribly.

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