October 12, 1940 – August 5, 2009
I am not sure who I should credit for that quote or if it is simply is a variation of something someone like Will Rogers might have said, but it was never truer than when said about my dear friend and mentor, Joe Dutelle.
Joe was diagnosed early last week with terminal liver cancer and died suddenly on Wednesday, leaving everyone who knew him in shock. Rarely has anyone lived life as richly and deeply as Joe so his sudden loss left the many people who loved and respected him, stunned with an overwhelming need to say goodbye to a most unique and loving man.
A Beautiful, Well Deserved Tribute
I attended Joe’s memorial service last Friday and was honored when asked by his lovely wife Joanne to speak during his eulogy about Joe’s very successful career in packaging. Joe’s pastor spoke before me and I was followed by Joe’s youngest son Mark and his only daughter Nikki, both who under the circumstances did an incredible job of sharing their life with their dad with the crowd. What many people noticed was the amazing consistency of the comments made from four different people, with four different perspectives, speaking about four different facets of Joe’s life.
All four of us speakers talked about Joe’s loving nature, as well as his unselfishness and willingness to share his time and extensive knowledge about almost anything at all. We all recalled Joe’s genuine warmth toward all people regardless of who they were or what they did for a living. In Joe’s mind and heart, the president of a company ranked equally with a bus boy or waitress and he treated everyone as if they were a long lost friend. Joe had a rare ability to make people feel important and loved, and not surprisingly they instantly loved him back. Traveling with Joe as I often did, was truly an experience. He would always make time to chat with people we met along the way, so we were often behind schedule but well ahead in terms of Joe’s purpose and passion.
Business Is What We Do, Not Who We Are
When I spoke about Joe at his memorial service, I could have focused on the profound impact he had on so many careers including my own. He would have been embarrassed if he heard me tell the crowd how often I smile and use WWJDD (What Would Joe Dutelle Do?) as my guide when facing a tough business problem. The smile quickly turns into a sheepish grin as I imagine Joe’s usual response designed to make me think for myself – “What do you think is the right thing to do, Dennis?”
I could have easily spent my time talking about Joe’s many business accomplishments, national recognition he earned in the packaging industry and his long list of awards but instead I chose to talk about what Joe taught us about life. He educated his many students how to succeed in business but more importantly how to accomplish our business objectives without sacrificing our souls or personal lives in the process. The church was jam packed the day of his memorial and many of the people present were business associates but trust me, they were not in attendance for business reasons.
What Will Be Our Own Legacy?
Perhaps it comes with age and thoughts of our own mortality. Or maybe it is simply human nature after you witness the outpouring of love I did last Friday but we will all eventually question what others will say about our own passing. “What would someone say in review of my life?” I wondered on the long drive home.
I hope and pray they will say I was a good guy of high integrity. And if that ever happens, it will be because I learned a little from one of the very best.