Just before writing this post, I realized my life basically turned around after I met Dennis Waite. Until then, I had a less than stelllar professional career and my frame of mind was not good, to say the least. A colleague recommended me to Dennis to fill a vacancy at The Financial Relations Board (FRB), the nation’s largest investor-relations agency at the time. Dennis directed one of six account groups in the headquarters Chicago office and had just acquired a prestigious client, Budget Rent-a-Car, following its IPO.
Dennis enjoyed a varied and interesting career. After a hitch in the U.S. Air Force, where he served in the Intelligence unit, he joined the Chicago Sun-Times, rising to assistant business editor. He also appeared on WTTW-TV’s early try at a nightly news program in the mid-1970s, “The Public News Center,” hosted by John Callaway. He then became a journalism professor at Michigan State University before moving to FRB in the early 1980s.
Surviving a series of tests and interviews, I joined the Waite Division, as it was known, in July 1987. Responsibilities included advising clients on investor-relations policy; writing news releases, investor presentations and annual reports; and media relations. Dennis made it clear from Day 1 that I could assume as much responsibility as desired – his concept of RHP (rank has its privileges) did not pertain to client work – and he would only rein me in if my work didn’t measure up. Dennis could pound a table good but never raised his voice to me. I won awards for the Budget account, and my career took off from there.
For the six years I worked with Dennis until moving to another division that needed some senior-level help, I learned something new from him every day . . . and most of it had nothing to do with work. For me, he was The Most Interesting Man in the World, long before the silly beer commercial. Sure, he taught me the ropes of investor relations, account supervision, people management and the intangibles that led to my successful career. But his interests went far beyond work: science, tae kwon-do, cooking, religion, poker. Lunches were usually not to catch up on account work but to discuss any number of topics. He was a dedicated husband to Chris and father to Kip, a good friend to Janet and Marisa.
We kept in touch on and off with Dennis and Chris after I’d left FRB fourteen years ago. He always grappled with various health issues, so I wasn’t surprised when informed he’d passed away a few months ago. We hadn’t spoken in some time, and Janet kept asking me over the years to call him. I don’t know why I didn’t but that doesn’t matter now. It taught me yet another lesson of life: make the effort if it’s truly important. It was, I didn’t and I regret it. Dennis requested no death notices, services or memorials of any type, which pretty much sums up the man, for he left his record in the hearts of those who knew him. Yes, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore.
Dennis Waite (right) with my daughter and me, near Bloomingdale, Michigan, mid-1990s