Today is my Dad’s birthday. He would be 83 today, had we not lost him to emphysema at the age of 71. Dad was a handsome guy as you can see from this dashing photo. He has a little bit of that “Mad Men” mystique about him in this photo, but not in real life.
My dad, Richard “Dick” Loewenguth, was always one of my best advocates and my first mentor. As his only daughter, with 5 sons, Dad and I shared a special bond. My brothers would claim I was spoiled, but you can only be spoiled if you are the only girl and the youngest; I was second in line.
My dad never went to college, and yet became a very successful, self-directed businessman. Dad was a manufacturers representative. He was a charismatic man who loved and lived for his family. He taught us about hard work, and about problem solving, and about being fearless in the face of intimidation or the unknown. Talk about fearless — Dad came home to his wife weeks before the Christmas holiday and tells the mother of 5 little ones that he is going to start his own company. I believe he took the plunge with one client signed. That took courage for both of them.
Though I do remember sensing that my mother was not very pleased about the prospect of having to manage the 5 of us, while supporting Dad as his phone receptionist. It would go something like this:
Phone rings: “Kids, QUIET!!! This is your Dad’s phone. David and Mark, stop picking on Tom. Peter and Mary, take them out of the room. EVERYBODY QUIET — She’d pause, smile, then answer ‘Hello, R. G. Loewenguth Company, may I help you?'” Once the call was complete, the noise and chaos would erupt again, and so it would go throughout the day. My mom, Joan used to say, my father was not crazy. If he were between calls and able to come home for lunch, he would simply keep driving. Why come home to the chaos for lunch? Dad’s success was not without having an incredible wife and assistant by his side. Dad could call Mom at 4:00 pm, and ask her to hire a sitter, that they were taking a client and his wife out to dinner in 2 hours. And somehow, she always looked incredible! Mom jumped for these dinners, and we would get the sitter and pizza. A good night for all.
Dad traveled a lot, primarily around New York State, and so was typically gone 1 to 2 nights a week. When I was 10 or 11, and If I had the day off school, I would join him on his calls around town. He would tell me I had to wear a dress, and when we arrived at the call, I would go in with him and wait in reception while he made his call. Everyone knew and loved Dad, and the receptionists were always very welcoming of me. But I remember that I just loved watching and listening to my Dad as he did what he did best — sell a product and service. He had a genuine warmth about him that people never felt as though they were being sold anything, but instead, they were being enlightened by their good friend, Dick Loewenguth. The day always included lunch out, and ended up somewhere for ice cream or pie. Dad knew all the good places for pie in town.
Despite his busy career, Dad was always there for us — making games, helping us with our homework, and when in trouble, always there to listen and help us sort out our challenges. I was a Senior at Nazareth Academy, and President of my class. As part of graduation, I was asked to open the graduation with a prayer. So I developed a prayer — short and sweet. Well the morning of graduation, we had to go to the Eastman Theater, and I had to practice my prayer. The principal at that time was a very intimidating woman, Sister Saint Peter. In a not so “saintly” manner, Sister St. Peter, just 8 hours before graduation, told me that my prayer was all wrong. I was supposed to be giving remarks as president of the class. As you may imagine, I was rattled by this. My plan was rehearsal, then loads of us were jumping in cars and heading to Ontario Beach Park for a graduation picnic. But no, not me, I was now in a panic mode. In less than 8 hours, I had to come up with something to say that was, in the words of Sister St. Peter, “Inspirational — inspire them Mary, you are the class president”.
I called my Dad at his office, and he told me to head home, he would meet me there. Dad cancelled 3 appointments he had later that day to sit in the living room with me for the next 4 hours. He helped me find the words for my “graduation inspiration.” Later that night, he delivered me in my white gown to the Eastman, kissed me good-bye, told me he was proud, and assured me I would be great. When I saw him heading back toward the stage, I asked where he was going, and he said, “To find your principal”. I stood quietly by as I saw my Dad spot the principal, and though I could not hear him, I could see that neither of them looked very happy. As he walked away, he smiled at me and simply said, “I told her that next time she should be a little more clear on message.” Dad looked pretty content; Sister Saint Peter did not. I suspect Dad once again advocated for me.
Dad and I also had our challenges. I recall one conversation where he made the mistake of saying to me out loud, that women going to work was negatively impacting families. As a young working mother at this time, proud of both my family and my career, I really took Dad on in this conversation. “Dad, do you understand that I went to school for an education because I want a career? And do you understand that I am good at it? And do you understand in today’s economy, many families are being supported by two parents? And…” My Dad finally raised his hand up in the sign of a cease fire, and said, “OK, I give up! You have proven you can work and raise a family.”
I remember the day I told him that I would be starting at the Monroe County Bar Association as Executive Director. He was very proud of me, and asked that I bring home some newsletters and a set of the by-laws as he wanted to better understand what I would be doing here. I recall sitting with him over a laptop one night giving him the tour of the website. He marveled at the complexity of the Association, and watched the newspaper daily in the event that the MCBA was written up. “Mary, if I see that you (the MCBA) are in the paper, I will call you right away.” Thanks Dad!
One day during my first year I opened a letter from my Dad. His emphysema was getting worse, and despite being told he needed to quit smoking, he quit too late, and it was almost 5 years after he quit that he was diagnosed. In his letter to me he had enclosed a letter that he wanted to send to the tobacco companies blaming them for his emphysema. Now that I worked for the lawyers, the letter was asking that I help him bring a class action lawsuit against the tobacco companies. I went and visited Dad that night on the way home. As I entered their apartment, he was sitting in his chair with his oxygen tank on. I sat down next to him with his letter in hand, and his eyes brightened as he anticipated my response. “Dad, we can’t sue the tobacco companies. You knew you should have quit years ago, and sadly, you quit, and then the emphysema developed.” “You have to own this one Dad.” I went on to say that just because I was the MCBA ExD, I could not bring a lawsuit against the tobacco companies. It was a difficult conversation to have, but he understood what I was saying.
Dick Loewenguth was a great man, and on this day, I think of him, and am grateful for so many of the gifts he gave me over the years. He was my first mentor, and to be on the record, probably my best.
Happy Birthday Dad!