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25 Years Ago, This Month

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This blog entry doesn't have anything to do with the motor coaching lifestyle. Not directly, anyway. But the event does have a lot to do with how much I appreciate the friends that RVing has provided to my wife and I. Friends who have helped me get through the loss that I wrote about in The Course of Dreams. That story was about the second time I lost a close friend.

This story is about the first.


In the summer of 1984 I moved my start-up small business out of my home into a small office in a really neat old building in downtown Norfolk, Virginia. I had a secretary, a salesman, and one installer -- me. My salesman was not giving the business much attention, and as a result was not very successful. I needed an additional person to spark a little competition.

One fall day I was talking about this problem with the pastor of our church. He was familiar with my dilemma and my business because my current salesman also attended the church and the pastor also worked with me on large installation jobs. He suggested that I talk to a new member of the church named Wayne.

"Wayne?" I said. "He retired from the Coast Guard; I don't think he knows anything about selling phones."

My pastor assured me that Wayne could learn. I was not so sure. Wayne just did not fit the mold of the typical telecommunications salesperson. He was short, bald, with a full gray beard and most of the time wore all black clothes and sandals to church. He seemed like he was some kind of ex hippie to me.

"What do you have to lose?" said Pastor.

"Nothing except a lot of time and energy" I responded. But I agreed to talk to Wayne.

Wayne had to retire on medical disability due to liver problems. I think he may have caught hepatitis at some point and he also at one time had a drinking problem. He was a Master Chief and the CO of a Coast Guard cutter, so he had some leadership skills, or so the Pastor kept telling me. I just needed someone who could help me; it sounded like the pastor wanted me to help him. I was not thrilled with the whole idea.

I talked to Wayne after church one fateful Wednesday night. He told me that he wanted no salary or draw, that he would work on straight commission and he would learn the phone business. He was all smiles and seemed excited about working for me. Someone excited -- that would be a change in itself. I agreed to give it a try. Wayne would start the next Monday. I hoped he would at least show up with shoes and socks on.

I did not see Wayne in church on Sunday. I don't remember if he was not there or if I was working. On Monday morning when he showed up at the office with a haircut, trimmed beard, dark suit, starched white shirt and tie and carrying a new brief case complete with gold name plate, I was completely shocked.

"Where is my desk?" was his first question. I showed him one of the large computer tables that we used as desks in the back office. He wanted some documentation and brochures on the equipment that we sold so he could learn it. He sat down and started studying and about four hours later asked if we could chat for a couple of minutes. He told me he wanted to go out with me for a few days and see my customers, ask for referrals, and he wanted me to go on his first appointments with him. No problem. He also said that since I was one of the owners of the company that I should dress the part.


"You can't go on sales appointments with me in jeans and work shoes; you need to keep some dress clothes here in the office that you can change into when I need you."

I was trying to figure out where I lost control. I was worried about his dress and now he is telling me that I needed to change mine. This was getting weird. But it was obvious that the Wayne I knew in church was not the Wayne sitting here in my office.

"If you need help shopping, we can go together."

"I think I can handle it."

"Good, a nice sports coat, dress shirts -- they don't have to be white -- some sporty ties and nice shoes should do it."

I got over my shock and, I hate to say it, my resentment, and took his advice.

We started to work together as a team. Wayne figured it would take a couple of months to get rolling and he was willing to foot his own bills and that is just what he did. We had lots of evening conversations as I helped him configure systems and taught him what was best for each of his prospects. He eagerly learned. We went to conventions together, and his prospect list started to grow. Bill, my original salesman, also perked up and started selling a bit more. Things started to look up.

During this time I learned more about Wayne. He used to be a partying man. He was a good Coastie, but a bad husband until he became a Christian and started attending our church. Unfortunately, his wife did not like the new Wayne, a more patient guy who did not drink or swear or smoke, so she left him. She took their teenage son and moved to Florida. Wayne was still in touch with them and it was his son who bought him his brief case.

Wayne kept generating leads and keeping appointments, but after a few weeks I could see that Wayne wanted to reel in his first sale. He was getting anxious and wanted to make something happen. It did not matter if it was big or small.

It was small. But to Wayne the first one was big. After six weeks he sold a system to a small auto repair place that needed four phones. We would be installing it in a couple of weeks.

During the two weeks, we started to plan our own trade show in cooperation with a wholesale food distributor whose owners (one being my brother) were the partners in my business. Hotel and restaurant people would be attending. There would be lots of food, and cooking demonstrations from Johnson and Wales University. The manufacturer of our phones sent Doug Stewart, a great factory representative, to work with us. It was a formal affair. The three of us looked sharp in our black tuxes and red cummerbunds. The evening was a great success. During the next two weeks Wayne talked to two major hotels and was sure that he would sell them, too.

I realized that I had found a very good salesperson who also was now my friend, and I knew that I would soon officially offer him a partnership.

The day came to install Wayne's sale. He helped me put it in, we trained the staff and they wrote a check for the system. Back in the office I wrote Wayne his first commission check. It was not that much.

"Well, its small but it will pay for the gas to keep on going." Wayne said.

I invited him over for dinner with Diane and I, but he declined, saying he was not feeling so well, his medication was not agreeing with him. He thought he would see Arlene that evening. She was a nice lady whose husband had been killed in Vietnam and she and Wayne had recently discovered each other.

"That crazy ex real estate partner of hers has been calling and making a jerk of himself the last few days," Wayne said. "She's upset about it, so I'm going to go over to her place."

For some reason I felt strongly that he should come to dinner with me, so I insisted he invite Arlene, but he declined. I became very uneasy and could not understand why.

That night was an untypical sub freezing cold October night and very late when the phone rang. It was Bill calling me.

"Derrick, are you awake?" he said.

"Yes, what's going on?"

"Derrick, Wayne is dead."

There was a long pause while I really woke up.

"Dead! How is that, why?"

"He was killed and so was Arlene. That partner of hers shot them both. I was heading over there just before it happened but Steve (Bill's son) had a flat and I went to help him."

I realized that I could have lost both Bill and Wayne. Arlene's real estate partner was upset that she planned to press charges against him for embezzling money out of the apartment complex that they owned together. She was also planning to sell the complex to cover the losses. He was not happy about this. Plus, he was not happy about her relationship with Wayne. The partner was a lot younger than her and, although married himself, had an obsessive crush on her. This was a volatile mix.

The night he killed them he dressed up like a Ninja, all in black, including a hooded mask. He carried a whole bunch of ninja weapons to a field just behind a canal that ran behind Arlene’s house. This field was the property of my church. Bill's house was two doors down from Arlene's. He laid all his spears, throwing stars, and swords in the grass, loaded his Uzi, waded the canal and headed for Arlene's house. His approach set the neighbor's dogs barking and Wayne opened the door to see what was causing the noise. The guy shot him down, jumped over Wayne's body and went into the house where Arlene was in the living room. Her son and a sleepover friend were upstairs. He shot the living room to pieces, chased Arlene around the first floor of the house, and killed her and then himself. The boys were hiding in the stairwell and of course heard the whole thing.

The news media was not too sharp and did not know that Wayne worked for me. There were stories on the front page of our local paper and it was the lead story on the local newscasts for about four nights. Not once did anybody contact me and I was very grateful for that oversight.

I quietly attended Wayne's funeral at Arlene's church along with 300 members of the Coast Guard.

The next day, as I was cleaning out Wayne's desk and shipping his briefcase to his son, it all sank in. My secretary became so upset that she quit and virtually so did Bill. My brother came to fill in, but that did not help much.

Wayne sold; I mean I sold the two hotels that I mentioned, along with quite a few other things that Wayne was working on. The business continued for two and a half years until I sold it. I was depressed; I could not see any good coming out of the loss of my friend and partner. It took me a long time to realize that it is not that important for me to understand. God was still in control and loved me; that was all I really needed to know.

In May of 1985 I almost lost my newborn son and my wife and it was the strength that I received from going through Wayne's death that sustained me and helped me to pray. They both survived.

Wayne is still someone that I think about a lot. I just recently found the worn-out and faded Polaroid of the three of us at the trade show. Every now and then it does me some good to look at Wayne's smiling bearded face, looking sharp in his red bow tie.

By the way, I now own a successful communications company that I started in 1991. My wife is my only partner. My first two customers were the same two hotels that Wayne would have sold. Life goes on.


Doug Stewart, Wayne and myself at the trade show:


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