Who has impacted your life?
Who has imparted their wisdom?
I’m going to visit my friend and mentor. For the last time.
For the past 35 years I have had the pleasure, honor, and good fortune to sit at the feet of Earl Pertnoy. Today I will be by his side. His bedside.
It is impossible to explain, much less elaborate on, the wisdom he so freely shared with me. Over the years, we have spent hours talking about business, family, children, money, sales, real estate, the Internet, email, ethics, marriage, friendships, and choices to be made. I always took notes. His manner was straight forward, pragmatic, and very accurate.
Earl was an early riser. We would often meet for breakfast — at 6 a.m. — he was NEVER late. Sometimes we would meet for lunch or dinner. He was NEVER late.
When I first knew him, I was traveling around the US with my young family going from city to city doing consulting. I called him bragging that I was making five grand a week consulting. After the fifth call he said, “Hey, Mr. Big Shot, you’re traveling here and there making five grand, wanna make a million? Stand still.” So I did, and I did.
Often he would drive me around Miami Beach, and show me the locations of his clothing stores — all the while telling me business stories that ranged from starting early and staying late, to guarding against employee theft. Sales stories, and stories of the struggle to succeed.
He also told me about others he knew. He showed me Angelo Dundee’s 5th Street Gym, where Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard trained. One of Earl’s clothing stores was just below it. Cool.
I told Earl that I was trying to get on Larry King. Earl knew him well. Turns out that Earl had bought time on Larry King’s radio talk show in the 1960’s for his clothing stores, and Larry left the show before the ad money was used up. “If you get on, tell him he still owes me money,” Earl quipped.
Faithfully married to the same woman for more than 50 years until her death, he was traditional in his values of doing business, supporting family, and philanthropy.
He was well known and well loved. Not just by family, but by community. He was involved and generous with time and contribution. And mostly without fanfare or notoriety.
Whether playing golf with Jackie Gleason, having a cocktail with Sammy Davis, Jr., or greeting a doorman at a hotel, Earl was always humble in the presence of others.
We exchanged ideas. I would tell him about my experiences — and he would offer his insight. And he did it without measuring, and without the expectation of anything in return. Except friendship. Genuine friendship.
We always talked a little about money — but never his money. I never had a money motive when I spoke with him. No need to. I was interested in his wisdom.
This morning I got a call from his daughter telling me that Earl was taken to the hospital, and was not expected to live more than a week. Whatever I had planned for the day seemed small by comparison to the fact that my friend was dying.
Within an hour I was at the airport and boarding a plane. You can’t say goodbye on the phone to someone who has had a profound impact on your life. So I jumped on a plane. Hell, it’s only a thousand miles.
I wonder what I will talk about when I see him.
I arrived four hours after I received the call. Twenty people were already there. Sons, daughters, grandchildren, and assorted close friends. I introduced myself to everyone, and shook hands with and hugged everyone. Many thanked me for coming, and told me that Earl spoke highly of me. I felt flattered and honored after just five minutes in the room.
Earl looked pretty bad. Sleeping with all kinds of needles and tubes in him. I was encouraged to wake him, but I chose to wait. After a half hour, a doctor came in and woke him. He looked at me and said, “What are you doin’ here?” “I was in the neighborhood, and just stopped by to say hello,” I stammered. He smiled weakly.
He fell back asleep. I began speaking with everyone in the family. A lovely caring family, of which Earl was the patriarch. We all talked about his life and his blessings.
After about an hour, his rabbi came over. She is a young woman that seemed like she was one of the family. She gently caressed his face and began whispering in his ear. He woke and listened to her. She said some Hebrew prayers, and everyone sang, as a blessing to Earl. He was awake and alert. When he noticed me and smiled, I felt compelled to talk. “Thank you. I love you.” I spoke softly, and cried.
After the prayers, and with everyone in the room, I began to speak of my times with Earl, and the lessons and blessings he bestowed on me. I told the gathered that he loved his family. That every time we were together, he spoke of family with the highest pride and praise.
I told them that Earl was one of the most giving and generous people I had ever known, and how grateful I was for his wisdom and friendship. Earl looked at me and said, “Antennas up!” He smiled as he spoke. It was one of his early pieces of advice to me. “Pay attention to every detail around you. People and things.” I always did.
People were crying. So was I. And one by one, others took the lead and told Earl how grateful and thankful they were for his wisdom, his help, and his love. And how much they loved him. Kleenex was passed around more than once. It was sad, but it was beautiful. Genuine family closeness. Genuine love.
All of a sudden, Earl said, “It ain’t over yet!” And everyone laughed. But alas, it was about over. He died this morning. Eighty-two years of fight, struggle, victory, and family. He won.
Earl Pertnoy was a gentle giant. His advice and mantra was, “People do what they want to do.” And he did. And his family wanted to be there to say goodbye. And they did. And so did I.
Thank you for your time and your wisdom, Earl. I will do my best to honor your friendship, your mentorship, and pass it on to those that I love. Safe journey.
If you want more of Earl’s wisdom, go to www.gitomer.com, register if you’re a first-time visitor, and enter EARL in the GitBit box.