I would like to share a few words about the founding chairman of our company, Oliver F. Emerson, who passed away in November.
Ollie, to all who knew him, was the owner of a successful printing company, one of Cleveland's most vocal cheerleaders and a guiding force of a magazine and media company that will be celebrating its 44th birthday in April.
Ollie was a man of many interests. Yet to me, he was and always will be an example of a special type of person: He was a fool — in the best, most passionate, change-making sense of "fools rush in where wise men never go." There's no other way to describe a man, who upon first meeting a 33-year-old with an idea to start a magazine for Cleveland, said: "Let's do it. I'll get some of my friends together and if they like the idea, Cleveland will have a new magazine."
If there was one thing Ollie had in abundance, it was friends.
In April 1972 a magazine was born with 22 midwives who, I'm sure, invested for friendship and no expectation of return. Over the years, I learned much from Ollie's friends. However, it took only three months to receive my first lesson — when we ran out of money.
After investors agreed to increase their investment, they stipulated that the culprit who had done such a poor job of forecasting must meet with them individually. Of course, I expected the worst. Yet with each visit I was surprised to find I was not in for a reprimand, but there to hear their vision for Cleveland and how a magazine might help achieve it.
I learned all I ever needed to know about Ollie before we published our first issue. His positive approach was so infectious he made Dale Carnegie look like a sourpuss.
When the two of us were called to meet with the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, some of the most powerful CEOs in the city — including the president of the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co., where I was still working — gathered around the table.
"Did you know," one of them said, "that we publish a magazine called The Clevelander?"
"Yes," Ollie answered. "It's an attractive promotional tool for Cleveland, but our magazine is a real magazine." With that, they vowed to do everything in their power to make sure we failed. But Ollie didn't blink: If it was battle they wanted, it was what they would get. And that was that. The Clevelander ceased publication several months later.
Today, there are more than 300 city and regional magazines, and I am proud to say that Cleveland Magazine was in New York with eight others to form the association that represents them. It has been a journey filled with stories, amazing people and events that have shaped us. Cleveland has come a long way from a burning river, a polluted lake, a bankrupt city, yet we also have far to go — and that's the most exciting thing.
What made the journey for me is the opportunity I had to meet Ollie Emerson, to work with him, to learn from him, to be inspired by him. Ollie had the vision, the courage — and the foolhardiness — to rush in where wise men never go.
Thank you, Ollie, for being one of those special people who helped change a small piece of the world we live in.