Greed, Love, and a Portrait for Sale

The news is much about greed. Greed dominates the headlines, not to mention the content, of what we read in all media. Are we perhaps at the point where the truly sensational stories are ones of generosity and relationship-building?

You be the judge.

Love and Life

Phil and Sue met in 1969 – on Valentine’s Day.  They were near-instant soul mates, marrying 4 years later.  They hired a photographer to shoot a photo of Sue for the newspaper wedding section.

It was a good photo. The photographer enlarged it and hung it as an example in his studio. But being young and broke, Phil and Sue couldn’t buy a portrait-sized version for themselves.

Life ensued. Phil and Sue moved away, and lived a full life around the world. Sadly, after 38 years of marriage, Sue succumbed to cancer.

A few months later, in 2012 – on Valentines Day – Phil returned to their old town, and to that studio, hoping to find the wedding portrait of Sue, and to buy it.

The portrait was still on the wall.  Next to it was a portrait of man who was the Bishop at the time Phil and Sue married.  The shop had a new owner, whom Phil recognized from high school as the original photographer’s daughter.  She was willing to sell the portrait to Phil –but only with her 95 year-old father’s permission.  She agreed to ask him.

A Signpost?

While Phil waited to hear the decision, he went for lunch at one of his and Sue’s old haunts. As he ate, he wondered whether the Bishop was still alive. And as he wondered – the Bishop himself walked into the luncheonette.

Phil was moved. After all these years, it was wonderful to see the bishop. At the same time, it reminded him of the loss of his wife.

A coincidence? A sign?  Whatever, it gave Phil hope that he’d be able to get the portrait.

The Portrait and the Loss

When Phil returned to the store, the old photographer had given his permission. The photographers – both generations – knew Phil’s story.  She could have charged him anything for the portrait and he would have paid it. Instead, she charged him almost nothing.

Lessons Learned

There was no greed in this story, only generosity.  There were relationships that transcended years.  There was the empathy – that of the store owner, and the others in his life – and now me.

I first met Phil about 25 years when we worked together at Hills Department Stores. He was the risk manager, I was a staff lawyer. We haven’t seen each other in over 15 years, though we reconnected on LinkedIn, and now stay in touch a couple of times a year. Yet he shared his story with me without hesitation.

There are lots of Phils in our lives. They each have stories. They can be colleagues, friends, clients, even family. Taking the time to listen can strengthen the relationship and bring people closer. And yes, it can also lead to deeper friendships and business opportunities. Because often people like to help those they feel close to.

I am touched that Phil shared his story with me, and that he allowed me to share it even further. Among other things, we are also enhancing our business relationship.  Phil is now a senior executive at a large company and has been a valuable resource for my own clients and friends.

Funny how that works. When there’s no greed about it.

3 replies
  1. JenniferV
    JenniferV says:

    What a story, Stewart. A vivid reminder for me to seek out the richness of my colleague’s and client’s lives. And also to be vulnerable myself–like Phil was in sharing this with you–in sharing my stories.  Do you happen to have a picture of the original portrait?

    • Stewart_Hirsch
      Stewart_Hirsch says:

      Thanks Jennifer – I think we’ll able to get a URL to the portrait shortly, and Phil or I will post it as a comment to this blog. 

  2. Tgcrane
    Tgcrane says:

    Touching, indeed. We forget to just do more of the right things in life, and actually all other things fall into place. We work with heart principles of listening and acting from a more heartfelt center of who we are, not what society wants us to be. Thanks Stewart. Tom


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