The Monthly Editorial Blog By Schlafly Beer President Tom Schlafly
The past few months have been a time of transitions, both positive and sad. On the plus side we finally closed on our deal to sell a majority interest in the brewery to a group of local investors in whom I have great confidence. For the first time ever I’m writing this column as a minority owner. I’m also now officially a minority owner of the St. Louis Blues, having survived the background check by the NHL. Whew!
My celebratory mood from concluding these two transactions has been tempered by sadness over the deaths of three men to whom I owe a lot. One was Rick Desloge, who wrote about the brewery for The St. Louis Business Journal. Rick was a pre-eminent journalist and an even better friend. Another was Todd Epsten, the CEO of Major Brands, our primary distributor. Todd was a great business partner, an exemplary community leader, a neighbor, a friend and someone who enriched the lives of all who knew him. Finally, there was Edward Kelly Cook, who was one of the best teachers I ever had at any level of education from kindergarten through law school.
When I was in high school, Mr. Cook taught (or tried to teach) me French, Latin and Greek. In the course of doing so he casually demonstrated fluency in several other languages as well, including German, Spanish and Italian. On one memorable occasion he came into the classroom and noticed a series of mathematical equations on the chalkboard from a previous class. Without hesitation he proceeded to show us an elegantly simple solution to the binomial theorem that wasn’t in our math textbook and was unknown to our algebra teacher. He then effortlessly switched gears from the binomial theorem to The Apology of Socrates.
After retiring from teaching, Mr. Cook came to work at the St. Louis Public Library, where I was on the board of directors. His colleagues soon realized they were in the presence of a man of true genius—-someone who regularly caused annoyance on the part of publishers when he discovered errors in books purchased by the library. By this time I had learned basic conversational German, in part from a class at Meramec Community College and in part from Ulrike, my German-born wife. I often encountered Mr. Cook at the reference desk and would converse auf Deutsch. Whenever he complimented my fluency, I replied, “Of course I speak German well, Mr. Cook. It’s the one language I didn’t learn from you,” thereby prompting a great display of mock indignation on his part.
The moment when Edward Cook most impressed my classmates and me was in October of 1964. The Cardinals were playing in the World Series for the first time in our lifetimes. In those days all World Series games were played in daytime, in other words during the school day. Not surprisingly, we were less than 100% focused on our schoolwork. Mr. Cook entered the classroom and began recounting in detail the triumphs and travails of the Cardinals in every World Series in which they had played from 1926 through 1946, all from memory. After describing to a spellbound class the way Enos Slaughter scored from first base on a single in the seventh game against the Red Sox in 1946, Mr. Cook paused for dramatic effect and then said, “And now back to Virgil’s Aeneid.”
Perhaps inspired in part by Mr. Cook’s lifelong love of learning, I’ve ventured back into the classroom a few times since graduating from law school, once in order to learn conversational German shortly after opening the brewery. Another time, as was reported in this space in August of 2011, I spent a week at the Air War College as a participant in the National Security Forum. At the end I submitted some suggestions to a dean at the Air War College that eventually led to my being invited back to serve as a Senior Civilian Mentor this year.
In this capacity I began the week by delivering an orientation speech to an auditorium full of hundreds of senior officers from all branches of the U.S. military and dozens of foreign countries. The audience included a handful of generals in addition to the 100 plus civilians. Afterwards a couple women came up to me to say they had enjoyed the talk and then added that I reminded them of Warren Buffett.
Say what? How could I possibly look like Warren Buffett? He’s more than 18 years older than I am. It’s one thing not to be challenged when I buy a ticket for a movie at the senior rate (as happened recently) or when I buy senior ticket on an airport bus in New Jersey (as also happened). But, to be told I looked like an octogenarian was more psychic trauma than I was prepared to handle.
This trauma was so severe that it wasn’t even slightly mitigated a few weeks later when a bartender at Lambert Airport asked to see my ID when I ordered a beer. Really. The fact that the bartender was working at The Schlafly Beer Bar and Grill on the C Concourse made the incident even more bizarre. Interestingly, when I showed her my driver’s license, she made no apparent connection with the sign on the wall behind her or with the logo on her shirt; nor when I gave her my credit card.
This particular bartender was clearly less perceptive than the women at the Air War College, who immediately sensed my distress and hastened to add that it was my glasses (fair enough) and gray hair (ouch) that reminded them of Warren Buffett. By way of additional salve for my ego, they went on to say that they greatly admired Mr. Buffett’s brilliance. On that point they were absolutely right. Warren Buffett is indeed brilliant. He’s almost in a league with Edward Cook…but not quite.