Throughout my life, I’ve been blessed with several mentors, and Bill Laber was such a mentor to me throughout our 14-year friendship. Today, I was shocked to learn that he had passed away over the weekend. I remain dazed, angry, confused, deeply saddened and remorseful that I hadn’t seen him in person in more than a year. We communicated often, almost every week if not more, but e-mail and phone calls are never enough.
I am reminded how important it is to reach out to those you admire most, care about most, long for most, look up to most, trust most, respect most and enjoy most. Each of those feelings describes how I felt about Bill. He was simply the nicest, most gentlemanly man ever to purvey the automotive aftermarket. Anyone who knew Bill the way I did would whole heartedly agree.
I met Bill in 1992, when he was working for a major aftermarket distributor, and for the next four years we criss-crossed America (along with a band of merry manufacturers) holding sales meetings, calling on DCs, working with his regional managers and basically enjoying life through work.To me, there is no better way to get to know someone and no better way to build a true friendship. I can vividly recall so many single instances of inspiration, jubilation, determination and accomplishment, but those times are best remembered in summary because in looking back, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. And, that was all due to Bill. He single-handedly, and in his own, low-key but highly effective way, drove us, inspired us, taught us, humored us, prepared us, and (most importantly) led us to great success. He was the quintessential “band” leader, and what a band we were!
Bill had many successes throughout his life, most of which revolved around his family and fishing. However, he left one helluva mark on the automotive aftermarket. He was awesome. He was an icon, father figure and confidant — simply one of the greatest assets our great industry has ever had, and I will sorely miss him.
Bill sent our little e-mail group a message last Monday. It was titled, “Your Morning Cup of Joy.” Bill enthusiastically instructed us to turn the sound way up on our computers. When I clicked on the link, a little mouse popped out of a coffee cup and sang “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog (Joy to the World).” When it was over, the message read, “Wishing You a Joyful Day!” That was Bill. That’s how he operated. Four days before his death, he was wishing me a joyful day.
And I didn’t respond.
It’s tough to work on a day like this, let alone deliver some inspirational editorial for you. It would be unfair to you if I were to pen an article today about some complicated collision repair issue. My heart just wouldn’t be in it. So, today, I am writing what I feel. And, what I feel most is the urge to remind each of you how important it is to reach out to those who have touched your life.
This is a sentimental message, I realize. But it’s an important one as well. Too often we find our daily routines overwhelming us, and we substitute what we’d like to do with what we must do or have time to do. Sometimes our routines are so overwhelming that we feel inadequate or tired, unimportant or ineffectual. Think about those people who have touched you the most throughout your life. I hope each and every one of you will take the time today to reach out and communicate with those people. Don’t wait.