ANN ARBOR, Michigan (March 18, 2009) — I am at the University of Michigan to speak to graduate students in the nation’s top ranked healthcare graduate management program. My host is outstanding teacher and friend, Dr. Christy Harris Lemak. Over dinner, we exchanged stories about our beloved industry, the leaders who have contributed so much, and some of the funny stories that we have encountered through our disparate careers.
As we enjoyed a wonderful meal, I mentally recalled one those classic moments that, if it had been told on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson by someone with far more talent than me, would have made that infamous anniversary show reel of spectacular highlights.
It was a wonderful, hilarious moment for me. For the “victim,” the newly appointed Director of Materials Management at Methodist Hospital in Memphis, it was a bleak, career limiting moment.
The year was 1978. I was the national marketing manager for Rocky Mountain Helicopters’ hospital based air ambulance program. I just had lunch with Texan Chester Ayres, a vice president of the Methodist system who had once worked for LBJ at his Austin television station. We had just returned from a lunch where martinis had been consumed. We were both catching flights — me to LA for a closing dinner at Memorial Medical Center in Long Beach. Chester was flying to New York.
We returned to the Methodist Hospital central unit to fetch my luggage. We had plenty of time, but Chester, a Texan with the bark on, who still had plenty of political stories to tell, wanted to get to the airport so we could continue our conversation over additional adult beverages. Standing between my luggage and Chester’s determination to get to the airport was the aforementioned Director of Materials Management, holding court in the main hallway wearing a flashy plaid sports coat on his first day on the job. When he found out who I was, he immediately launched into a lecture on how he was going to control the bid and specification process. Once he got started, he would not shut up. Chester became more impatient by the moment. Finally, he started rubbing the lapel of this awful plaid jacket.
After a few minutes, this fashion king stopped talking – thankfully – looked down at Chester’s hand and asked: “Do you like my coat?”
Chester quipped, “Son, somewhere in Tupelo, Mississippi there is a ’57 Chevy that ain’t got seat covers.”
Sudden Silence. I grabbed my bags and we fled the scene. We made it to the airport in time for one more great story about former President Johnson. On the down side, I don’t think the new Director lasted too long at Methodist.
Life is full of amazing stories. And some very clever punch lines. In these tough times, we need to remember that important fact.
Listen for the stories and laugh when you can.