I never thought I’d find myself in this space. From its creation, this was Al Wahnon’s exclusive perch and he loved it here. Al had a love affair with words. He loved to make them dance. He wanted to be precise, so he always crafted his words and phrases with extreme care, secretly taking great pleasure in knowing what filled this column would often send his readers to a dictionary or thesaurus to figure out just what the heck he was talking about.
The other key element his columns was passion. Al was passionate about many things: the industry, the people in it, and what was fair and just. He was one of the most passionate people I ever met.
For me the relationship began after Surfaces in 1995. He had written a column critical about something WFCA didn’t do at the show. I called him up after it appeared and told him he was right and I’d rectify the situation at the first opportunity. I did. From that point on, we became fast friends, and he took me under his wing.
His passion was never more evident than in his involvement with the Floor Covering Industry Foundation (FCIF), the charitable organization that assists those in the industry who have been afflicted with catastrophic illness and the financial impact that frequently accompanies that predicament. Before I became involved in FCIF as a director, chairman and president, I thought it was Al’s private charity. He was the only journalist who wrote about the foundation and what it was doing. While that’s changed, Floor Covering News still devotes more ink and free advertising to the foundation than anyone. And no one was more passionate about FCIF than Al, who was there from its inception. We would spend hours on the phone talking about how it might be more effective. And, befitting of a mentor, it was Al who introduced me to several key industry people. I remember Walter Guinan telling me: “If Al says you are OK, then you are OK. Any friend of his is a friend of mine.” And so it was.
One of the things I admired most about Al was he was never disingenuous. If you were his friend and he was upset with you, you knew it. It was amazing how someone with his expansive vocabulary could swiftly shift into a torrent of profanity unmatched by any other. You did not want to be situated directly across from him at these times, as his words came so fast and furious they were often accompanied by expectorant.
I once told him I was moving to get out of his range, because he was a “camel,” which is a decidedly nasty animal who takes great pleasure in spitting at humans. At first this seemed to hurt his feelings, but soon evolved into gales of laughter. (“Really? You think I’m like a camel?”)
He found it very amusing I gave him an FCIF Chairman’s Award for his service with the apostrophe in the wrong location (a sin he’d never commit). Still, it hung in his office with the multitude of other awards he’d received over the years, and he took great comfort in those surroundings.
Al loved the people he worked with and took great pride in their accomplishments, often talking endlessly about them and what excellent and special people they were. This did not mean they would escape his wrath if he perceived they crossed him. I remember at one lunch he was being particularly “difficult” with some of his staff and I pulled him aside and told him it was making me uncomfortable. “You’re family and they’re family,” he shrugged. “And sometimes families argue.” His affection nonetheless showed through even when he was mad about something.
I also remember a young female journalist joining the staff and me trying to warn her that while Al might appear to be volatile on occasion, he was really just a big sweetheart. She eventually left to take another position, but before she did she made a point to call and tell me Al had always treated her with the utmost respect and courtesy, and she loved him like a grandfather.
Me, too. They broke the mold when they made him and I doubt I’ll ever meet anyone like him again. I’m going to miss him calling and opening with, “So, how they treating ya, kiddo?” Truth is I’m going to miss him terribly, but I know I was truly blessed he was part of my life.
Chris Davis is president & CEO of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) and president of the FCIF.