My Friend Reuben

by francine Hardaway on March 22, 2008

Reuben doesn’t think this feels like a Depression. And he should know. He’s a serial entrepreneur. Reuben started a packaging business, very successful, which his son now runs. He got into packaging after he got out of the watch repair tools business, which had segued into the high tech supply business. At one time, he supplied Motorola with Swiss-made tweezers. He never knew what they were used for — only that Motorola bought a lot of them. Today we would say he was part of Motorola’s supply chain.

He got into the watch repair tools business because he grew up in New York near the Bowery, which was then in the jewelry district.

(Reuben is thinking of starting a blog, only he’s not too sure he wants to deal with the number of responses he will probably get, because his first blog post will be how he feels about the Pentagon giving Airbus the contract for the next generation of fighter planes. He thinks the contract should have gone to Boeing, for obvious reasons.)

Reuben is 92. I met him in the pool at my gym, where he takes water aerobics every day after doing exercises upstairs on the machines. His back is bad, so walking in the water is easier for him.

His wife, his lifelong partner, to whom he was never unfaithful, died this year, so Reuben is pretty lonely. But he has a lot to say, so I love our lunches. We had one yesterday.

I asked him, “Reuben, does this feel like the Great Depression?”

Reuben graduated from high school during the Great Depression. He got his first job, which paid $3.00 a week, and then soon got promoted to a job that paid $6.00 a week. His mother brought up five children singlehandedly. He never went to college, but after the military he and his young wife Gloria came to Phoenix, Arizona, where he sold tools to repair watches.

They bought their first house for cash. It had 740 sq. ft. , 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. They slept on the floor in sleeping bags until they could save the money for furniture.

They did fine, until watches didn’t need to be repaired anymore. Then he had to figure out something else to sell, and that’s how he ended up in the “carry-away packaging” business. Nothing high tech about it. But he gave good prices and good service, and time after time the “big boys” came into the market, tried to buy him out, tried to crush him, and failed.

His son is now servicing the third generation of customers Reuben acquired. The company is doing well. Reuben is living in his paid off home overlooking Phoenix –the last in a series of moves he and Gloria made, and the home in which his kids grew up. Although he is in pain, to him every day is a gift, and his sense of humor is intact. So, he informs me, is his prostate. He pays for the lunch and then says “thank you” to ME!

I don’t even think he considers himself an entrepreneur. But I consider him a treasure.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Connie Reece March 22, 2008 at 10:49 am

Francine, thanks for sharing Reuben’s story. His is an important perspective. My mother turns 84 this month. She’s blogging, but I set her up on Tumblr, which does not have a comments feature. I chose Tumblr because it’s so easy to use and requires absolutely no blogging experience. Perhaps Reuben could do something similar, unless he particularly wants the interaction that comes from enabling comments. I would love to read his thoughts on whatever he chose to write about.

francine hardaway March 22, 2008 at 2:53 pm

Ah, perhaps I will set him up on that, or perhaps on Blogger if he wants comments. The Arizona Republic wanted him to blog on their site, and that’s what scared him about comments. Those could come from any wacko.

Janet March 26, 2008 at 10:44 pm

Thanks for sharing this story. It is well written and fun to read.

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