This was not the first time I stood silent as a casket was lowered into the freshly dug earth. But this time was different. Very different. There was no heavy heart. There would be time for tears later. Rather, in my mind the moment called only for applause.
Yes, the final curtain had fallen on the legendary life of Floor Covering News founder Albert Wahnon. And, if the farewell performance of any show ever deserved a standing ovation, this was it—for the man he was, for the contributions he made. Contributions to this industry, contributions to this country, contributions to mankind.
Al served this industry for more than 55 years as an editor and publisher. Specifics not needed here; that’s your required reading on page 3 of this issue. He served his country as a WWII veteran, returning home with a pair of Purple Hearts. His benevolence was legendary—as a founder of the Floor Covering Industry Foundation and a whole lot more outside this industry. In fact, if your political persuasion was not of the liberal variety, you basically were an idiot. Al could not understand how any human being could not support the party that exists in large part to help the less fortunate. Applause.
As the casket was laid to rest in the grave, I was remembering the first time I met Al. We were attending a Greater New York Floor Coverers Industry Promotional Fund Christmas lunch at Ben Benson’s in New York City—he as the editor and co-publisher of this magazine, me as the executive editor of Floor Covering Weekly. I was attending with my managing editor at the time, Reggie Tucker, an African-American. After the lunch, Al being Al, proceeded to tell Reggie he had traced his lineage back to Cape Verde, Africa, and found that, like Reggie, had black relatives. Reggie didn’t find the humor in that. Nor the belief. But Al was serious.
As the rabbi was saying his piece over the grave, I recalled how throughout the years Al had referred to me as “illiterate.” That was until the day I came to work for him. Overnight I metamorphosized into a respectable journalist. But that was Al. His view was always influenced by the side you were on.
As those at the gravesite shoveled dirt onto the casket, I couldn’t help but remember how a stroll into Al’s office to ask a simple question would always turn into a 30-minute conversation about the past. Friday night dinners at the Lorberbaums, card games on cross-Atlantic plane trips with the highest level industry executives; the only journalist Bob Shaw ever trusted; and names of people who for me only exist in industry anniversary issues. Yes, the flooring industry was the show, and Al was its star. Applause.
As the dirt continued to pile higher on top of the casket, I was thinking about the day I joined FCNews in January 2006, boasting to Al that within five years this magazine would become the industry leader in advertising pages. This was forever his dream: To topple the magazine he once ran for 31 years. However, Al had resigned himself to the fact that the combination of Floor Covering Weekly’s rich history and brand awareness would always serve as a wedge from preventing his goal from becoming reality. It took three- and-a-half years. As those shovels continued to pass from family to friend, I could only smile knowing I played a small role in helping Al achieve his dream. Applause.
As I turned my back to the grave and began the walk toward my car, I thought about what Al had achieved in his 91 years minus six days and looked at my reflection in the window. I acknowledged I will never be the wordsmith he was, I will never come close to having the iconic status Al enjoyed, nor will I ever be the man he was. But as I opened my car door, I recalled a random afternoon, possibly 10 years ago, when my former boss, Sandy Montero, a bit frustrated that I was more interested in socializing with my many industry friendships than parlaying those relationships into meaningful editorial copy for the magazine, referred to me as a modern day Al Wahnon. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the greatest compliment a flooring journalist could ever receive. But it couldn’t have been further from the truth. No industry journalist can ever be mentioned in the same breath as Al.
Bravo, Al. Bravo.