Sunday, January 29, 2012

Stories from Tommy.

           My friend Tommy's career seemed to run in and out of mine for years. I first met him in Detroit at Chevrolet's ad agency, where we were both writers. It was during "Mad Men" days, and Tommy's suits were always shinier than mine.

           His suits were shiny not from wear, but from the material Tommy picked out. He was always a class act and every year, when a certain Hong Kong tailor came to town and set up shop in a suite at the Hilton, Tommy was first in line. Tommy loved the clothes, and kept his jackets on all day at work, his white shirts sparkling and his cuff links gleaming. We all wore suits in those days, with ties with stripes or those squiggly little things on them.

          Tommy saw every ad as an opportunity for immortality. If he was doing an ad about brake linings, he would interview engineers, study the manuals, question mechanics, visit the proving grounds, and practically camp out at the client's offices.

         But if you wanted to go to Tommy's office, you had to consider it carefully. He had a ten-minute story for every occasion, and loved to share.

         Tommy left the agency two years later and became the copy director of a new small agency headed up by Sy Lachusa, a brilliant art director. About a year later, Sy left his own agency after a dispute with his partners. I was recruited to replace him. And when I arrived, there was Tommy, ready to regale me with a hundred stories about the place.

         I stayed at that agency long enough to help them get some new clients, and then left because a recruiter tempted me to move to the Pontiac and Cadillac ad agency in the suburbs. Tommy quit, too, to start his own ad agency. Later he told me that once in the early days of his agency, he was making a presentation and when he reached up to write on a chalkboard, one of his suit sleeves fell off. He said his shiny suit was good, but the thread was bad.

        Over the years, Tommy became an expert at what was called "community banking", and had banks all over the state as his clients. He also became an important member of the Bankers' Association, and told great stories as a speaker at their meetings. He also arranged for his company to be the overflow agency of choice for Chrysler, when their regular agencies got overwhelmed with work.

         Tommy is retired now, and playing a lot of golf. He called me from Chicago last summer, and before that from Hilton Head.

         And boy, did he have stories.

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