Our Friend Ira
After a lovely, standing-room-only memorial service for Ira Kaplan on Sunday, Nov. 20, Ken Gill, Kimberley Rimsza, her daughter Nicole and I went to dinner in Boston’s North End. Jan and Beth were already headed home. After a while, Ken, who considers Ira his best friend, asked us all to tell Ira stories. One of the best came from Nicole, who mentioned how Ira was always sending her dolls, stuffed animals and other presents. I laughed because he would do the same with our kids. The cliché about “outrageous acts of kindness” is one way to describe Ira for those who didn’t know him.
I believe Ira taught me more about the foodservice equipment business, both directly and indirectly, than anyone, even Ken. He also taught me a great deal about life and how to live it. He was a Catherine’s Wheel of energy and ideas. You’d meet him for lunch and he’d have 10 or 20 things you should know or do. It could be overwhelming. But it was always presented in a way you knew was meant with your well-being in mind.
Simple story about Ira not many people know: After Eastern Servolift, the family business, was sold, Ira worked as a consultant. One of his clients was Dinex. At some industry meeting in 2004, Ira was anxious to have lunch with Rich Chrampanis and me. “You guys should create a magazine just for healthcare foodservice,” he told us excitedly. “Just what you do in FER, the product comparisons, the kitchen designs, but just for healthcare.” We went back and kicked it around with Brian Ward and Beth. Everyone thought it was a great idea. We launched FER’s Focus on Healthcare Foodservice the next year and we’ve published it ever since.
Brian, our founding editor, reminded me of another “Ira impact.” Ira urged Brian to get involved with Food Chain, as it was then known, later Second Harvest. He did so and together with Bill Kinney, who was then at Prince Castle, got the idea for the biennial “Hospitality Hogs” motorcycle rides to The NAFEM Show. Over five rides from 1999 to 2007, they raised $350,000 or so for Second Harvest. As Brian says, “As in It’s a Wonderful Life, Ira probably never knew the ripple effects he could take credit for.” Ira’s ripples often became very big waves.
I have so many Ira memories, from tempting each other down double-blue ski runs (we weren’t great skiers) at Deer Valley, Utah, during the annual Gill Marketing ski trips, to his getting together an intimate group of his friends from across the industry to help Irv Bernstein at Baring, and helping create what we called the “Super Secret Equipment Meeting.” Memories of the time he bought our youngest son Sam an ornate sculptured train locomotive (Sam was a train boy) and of Ira working like a man possessed at The NAFEM Show in ’15 (he was already ill).
I have scores of these stories. So many of us do. Beth has compiled a number of them in a touching and wonderful profile of Ira in this issue (page 86). I urge you to read them. And I think it would tickle him that the profile is running in an issue at The NAFEM Show. He liked a big audience. Ira still touches all of us and always will.
Rest in peace, my friend. We miss you already.