February 15, 2017
The Uncle Ruby Blog
I needed something to inspire me to write another blog. I'm reminded often that the last blog is old and I know it. I've been meaning to. I just can't find inspiring material. And then yesterday it happened.
Ruben (Ruby) Spitz died yesterday. No he was not my uncle. But I loved him like one. Ruby was a hat maker by trade. He was a father, grandfather, husband, and friend to many. He was also a child of war – which he tried to not let define him – but it often did. I first met Ruby in the late 1970's when I would accompany my father on buying trips to New York City. Ruby owned a hat and cap manufacturing company. He was a pretty large player in our industry, at one time employing over 300 sewers. My dad always liked Ruby, said you could trust him. I was maybe 15 years old the first time I met Ruby. All I remember is him and my dad haggling over the price of leather caps in his shop. And then we went into Ruby's office and I saw the pictures on the wall. Something I will never forget – pictures of prisoners in Nazi death camps surrounded by barbed wire fences, articles about the war, facts about the war, an office decorated so you could never forget the war.
Came here with nothing
As I got older and grew in our business I started visiting Ruby myself and we got to know each other quite well. Possibly vodka had something to do with it. We would do business – me the customer and he the supplier – and then we would go to dinner and eat and drink. He liked to entertain and I liked to be entertained. But what I liked the most were hearing his stories and he didn't hold back. What he saw in war, nobody should see. Imagine seeing loved ones shot and killed, point blank, in front of your 10 year old eyes. Imagine that little boy escaping the German army with his older brother leading the way and living or should I say surviving the rest of the war living in a forest. You go from being a boy to man without enjoying childhood. And you can never get rid of it.
Long story short, he wound up in New York (His brother survived too and I think wound up in South America). The stories continued. He took a job in a cap factory. He learned every job in the place. He started his own cap factory. He didn't make money so he didn't take money. He slept hungry on the factory floor (He'd been through worse). But he kept going. And he got successful – which brings other issues. Jealousy, unions, strikes and imports - he survived them all.
"Never give up and never give in" were the words Ruby used most often. All his stories ended with the same lesson. He was a real survivor. When inexpensive imports became the norm in our industry, most of the USA manufacturers closed. Not Ruby. He reinvented his shop, downsized, moved to Newark, designed more, sampled more, went "high-end" and found a niche. "Never give up and never give in!" That was the lesson Ruby wanted to teach me.
Yes, Ruby was teaching me a lesson every time we met – although he didn't know it. Or maybe he did. He liked me and I knew it. It was mutual. We had a 30 year working relationship until he finally sold his business last year. It was much more than a working relationship.
Top of my list
One unarguable principle in business is that people do business with people. It's one of the things I like best about my job/career. I am fortunate that I have a big list of people I enjoy doing business with – people that become friends. Ruby was at the top of that list. I will miss hearing his stories. I will miss sharing his frozen vodka (He was sure vodka made in Poland was the best in the world and his favorite brand was Belvedere). I will miss going out to dinner with him. Time catches everyone, even Ruby – the ultimate survivor. I'm sad. I will miss Uncle Ruby.
Me and Ruby