There are people whom we all know well in this industry. People whose names and reputations precede them. But how many of them know you equally as well, and maybe even better than you know yourself?
Herb Jaffe, one of the greatest and most sincere pillars of our personal and professional lives, passed away on October 11. The weight of that sentence is a lot to bear, but the only thing that makes it lighter is the fact that I think we all feel his presence even more on this day when we remember him together. Because Herb was a man who kept so many close him, who somehow found time to call a stunning number of people on a regular basis to keep them in the loop of his knowledge and esteem. When Herb called, you knew you were going to get information and a slew of genuine compliments. For every bit of advice he gave you, he heaped on the acknowledgement of how well you were already doing.
The conversations I've had about Herb today, and the ones I'll likely have in the future, are all centered around his integrity. People throw that word around a lot, especially in remembrances, but I want to assert that when Herb smiled at you, when he clapped you on the shoulder for a job well done, it felt like the highest compliment from a close relative, a professor, and the warmest guy you ever met. I think the reason we're all misty-eyed over the loss of this man is because we're looking in the mirror and seeing ourselves for who he thought we were. Herb thought we were great, and we all want to believe that to be true on our best and worst days. That's what we're going to take with us, and that's how we're going to remember Herb every day.
Herb was a columnist for SCN since its inception, and I had the privilege of working with him from the minute I joined the publication in 1998. From the very first moment, Herb made it apparent that he saw my potential more clearly than even I could imagine. He looked at this young kid and knew that I meant what I said, and I was going to operate that way. He always said I knew my subject matter, and gave me a lot of credit that I am sure I wouldn't give myself. But he boosted me up, he gave me ideas, and he showed me how personal and professional values could coexist. If you were a genuine person by nature, as Herb absolutely was, you could bring that quality to work with you. Why hide what you were thinking and feeling when those very instincts are what inform the best decisions?
Every person who knew Herb has a personal connection with him. Not just an incidental anecdote, but a long-standing relationship that he carefully maintained over years and across miles. We are fortunate to have a great many characters with integrity in this industry, and I like to think that Herb gave a lot of them the strength to operate from their hearts more than their ledgers. We are people first, here, and that notion is what the best businesses are built upon.
What it takes to really know someone is to see what motivates them on a deeper level. Seeing me for the scenester that I am, Herb told me stories about the Hot Club in Paris, where Django Reinhardt played with his cronies. Seeing me for the midwesterner that I am, he introduced me to Ed Scribner, a sound man from upstate New York who wrote me beautiful letters about his career and was kind enough to let me hang out with him in the sound booth at the county fair where he held a post most of his career.
I can safely say what a lot of us in this business most likely feel, and that's that even if we didn't talk to Herb every day, we operated from a place where he brought us every day. And we will continue to do so in his honor. I think I'm going to make a lot more phone calls each week, too. It's best to keep talking to the people who inspire us most in this business, and we'll do that in tribute to Mr. Herb Jaffe.
You can read Herb Jaffe's obituary here, and I'd encourage you to share your thoughts and memories in the comments below. I will also be writing a longer story with comments from those who knew Herb. Stay tuned.
Some thoughts that came in as I was posting this blog:
I got to know Herb in the late 1990s when I was managing editor of SCN and he was one of our regular columnists. I'd only been out of college a few years back then, while Herb had such a wealth of experience and knowledge. When I changed around the structure of one of his columns one time, he asked me why I had edited it that way. He wasn't condescending about it, but truly wanted to learn 'from an actual journalist,' even though I was just a kid. He could have easily told me to take a hike, but instead he was always kind and respectful, not to mention very entertaining (intentionally or unintentionally). I'll always remember his answering machine message: 'This is Herb Jaffe in New Jersey, please leave a message.' I ALMOST changed my message to 'This is Jeremy in New York City...' after hearing that.
-Jeremy Glowacki, editor, Residential Systems
He was a great mentor, I would use that word about him. I'll always remember handing him the NSCA Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997, and how thankful we were that he was able to contribute so much to the industry for such a long time.
-Chuck Wilson, executive director, NSCA
I had the distinct honor of learning so many things from Herb Jaffe over the years - about business, about marketing, especially about Public Relations, but mostly about life and the way people should be treated. I was truly blessed to have his support and friendship - two things I never expected when we began what would be a nearly 10-year long mentorship. He taught me about respect, accountability, integrity and the importance of listening carefully to others. Well into his retirement, he continued to give me all the advice I was willing to hear. And with each morsel of information, he reminded me that it was just one man's perspective and he would never be offended if I chose to walk in a different direction.
His pride and genuine enthusiasm were infectious. He loved this amazing industry with every fiber of his being. I know that because he told me, and often. He was a man that lived by a strong set of personal values that applied equally to his business endeavors and personal relationships.
I will be eternally grateful to Herb Jaffe, my mentor and friend.
-Rebeca Villareale, public relations manager, Middle Atlantic Products
Herb was a mentor to me personally, and to our young, growing company - spending time on things that went beyond sales and marketing which he was best known for. He truly understood the value of both customers and consultants and employees, and taught us how to prioritize our passions.
He came from cultures that were far from the "renegade" way Middle Atlantic was managed, but "Herbie" (as his family called him) adapted and excelled at a remarkable speed. I was amazed that this man could add so much value to such a different type of company. His thoughts were always spot-on, and he was relentless in always working on the "right thing" to do.
After he retired, I found out what a dedicated father, grandfather, and family man he was. Even in his passing, he has had continuing influence.
Middle Atlantic and I owe him a debt of gratitude for all his dedication, caring and hard work. He shaped our company in ways that will live on forever.
-Bob Schluter, founder, Middle Atlantic Products