I’m dedicating this article to Phil Caris, a man who taught me a great deal about business and more importantly about life. Mr. Caris, (as I always called him) passed away last month. In writing a condolence letter to his family, I couldn’t help but realize that the way he lived his life could teach us all a lot in these difficult times we’re facing.
Phil Caris first worked with my Dad at my Grandfather’s famous store –
Ben Tipp Diamonds on the corner of 3rd and Pine in downtown Seattle.
Ben Tipp was my Grandfather - my Mom’s Father. Working for Ben, I’m sure, was no picnic. Ben had a far-reaching reputation of being a very tough guy. Being the son-in-law, I’m pretty sure my Dad had it tougher than anyone.
However, from what I’ve been told, my Dad’s hard work ethic and integrity earned Ben’s respect and they ultimately struck a deal whereby my Dad after so many years would ultimately buy the store from Ben. However, after my Dad had worked in the business for approximately seven or eight years, my Grandmother passed away unexpectedly. Afterwards, Ben became quite despondent and within days sold his landmark store to Zales.
The following day, Grandpa Ben came over to our family’s house in Magnolia and shocked my parents with the disturbing news that he had sold the store. My Dad was crushed as he had been told that he was going to be able to purchase the store and he had worked extremely hard toward that goal. However, he soon recovered and subsequently decided it was time to move on. So the family packed up and moved to Southern California, where Dad would open his own store.
After searching for the right opportunity for almost a year, my Dad bought a store in Pasadena, CA from a gentleman named William Pitt.
I was only about four years old at the time, but I can still remember meeting Bill Pitt at our North Hollywood house.
Upon buying the store, the first person my Dad asked to join him in this new enterprise was Phil Caris. Mr. Caris and my Dad had worked together as sales associates for quite a few years at Ben Tipp Diamonds and over that time had earned each other’s friendship and respect. At first Mr. Caris (Phil) didn’t want to leave Seattle, but my Dad persisted and after a while, he persuaded Mr. Caris to move to Southern California with his young family and manage this new store.
From the time I was in grade school and on, I had to work in the family store every Christmas season after school got out and in later years every summer as well.
I sure didn’t want to be there, but I did get a great education by working in that store and I got to know Mr. Caris pretty well over the years. It was obvious that this affable man could sell ice to an Eskimo, but what was more obvious was that you could instantly see how much he was loved and respected by the associates that he managed as well as the thousands of customers that he helped over the years.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I found out more about Mr. Caris’s personal life. And it wasn’t from Mr. Caris that I learned it, but rather from my Dad. I knew Mr. Caris had a wife and three children because he’d occasionally talk about them with even more of a twinkle in those vivid blue eyes of his.
But my Dad told me the full story - how Mr. Caris had married the love of his life, a beautiful woman by the name of Rose. And how Rose, not long after giving birth to their third child was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Anyone who knows anything about MS, knows that this dreadful disease can cause the body to deteriorate over time until one can become totally incapacitated. This is what happened over the years to Rose Caris, the mother of his children and the love of his life.
Mr. Caris eventually had to hire a full-time nurse to care for Rose when he was at the store. Then when he returned home after a long day at work, Mr. Caris spent the remaining fifteen or more hours providing loving care for his invalid wife.
He would bathe her, turn her so that she wouldn’t develop bedsores, clean her, and feed her first by mouth and in later years, through a tube. One can only imagine how heart-breaking it was for Mr. Caris to hour by hour, day by day watch his beautiful Rose slowly lose control of her body until she could not even perform the most basic of human functions on her own.
Yet, every day that Mr. Caris worked in that store, over the forty-some years until he retired; you would never have known that Mr. Caris had a care in the world. Not even once did he ever complain about his life.
When he walked in that door first thing in the morning until he locked up the store and left in the evening, the man had a smile on his face and a new joke or a funny story to tell. And every remaining hour of his life was spent taking care of Rose until she finally passed on, just a year or two before Mr. Caris finally retired.
Mr. Phil Caris will forever be one of my heroes. A man who smiled and laughed, because he knew he had a job to do. And he would do that job as well as it could be done because he knew that was the only way in which he could provide the best possible care for his wife and three children.
There is no doubt that these are difficult times and they’ll likely get worse before they get better. We’re in the throes of the worst economy any of us have ever experienced. Some of us are making less money than we need to pay our bills. Many people have lost their jobs and many more will. Most of us have likely lost some or all of the money that we have invested or saved. Thousands of families are losing their homes.
However, what I might suggest that if we and the ones we love have their health, we truly can count ourselves fortunate. And to remember that whatever happens to us, feeling sorry for ourselves will only make matters worse.
There’s a saying that goes, “the optimist survives”. Mr. Caris never complained and never stopped smiling, even in the face of great tragedy. I’ll always be grateful that I had Mr. Caris in my life to remind me to keep smiling.