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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

The Empty Seat

Updated: Jan 29

The responsibility of honoring the ones who gave the gift of unwavering support.


In my blog two weeks ago, I wrote how bizarre that day felt to me as I prepared to be recognized as the Distinguished Service Award recipient by PPAI for 2024. As part of the celebration, there was an awards dinner that same Monday evening. It likely won’t surprise anyone that it was a swanky, if not intimate, affair with fantastic food, lovely libations, and amazing people. In short, the people at PPAI did an amazing job of making me feel honored.

 

As I mentioned many times that day, while I may have been the honoree, there were so many people who supported me in my journey that, honestly, the award – and the recognition that came along with it – was just as much theirs as it was mine. Thankfully, the good people at PPAI allowed me to invite ten people to the awards dinner on Monday night. I treated those invitations as if they were golden tickets to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. As such, I intentionally handed them out to specific people for very specific reasons, which I shared during my remarks that night.

 

However, there was one invitation I intentionally didn’t hand out. In fact, I insisted that there be an empty place setting for a man who shaped and supported me more than just about any other human but couldn’t be in attendance.

 

The man was my father-in-law, Gene Menze, who passed away in December 2022.

 

As I’ve written before, I wasn’t close to my father. My relationship with Gene was much different: he wasn’t just a father figure to me; he was one of my best friends. He was a confidant, a teacher, and a mentor who supported me endlessly. When he passed away some 13 months ago, it left a massive void in my life.

 

Most importantly, he witnessed EVERY single failure I have had – both personal and professional – and he still invested in me.

 

  • After every job I lost, he pushed me to learn from each experience and grow from it.

  • He wouldn’t tolerate whining when I felt others succeeded because they “got all the breaks.”

  • When I fell, he always picked me up, told me to dust myself off, and get back at it.

  • Upon making ill-advised decisions, he took the time to explain that while other options may have achieved different results, it was better to own it, learn from it, and move forward.

  • He was an incredible sounding board for my career aspirations, and his advice was always spot on.

  • Besides Sandy and our children, Gene was the biggest cheerleader when I started brandivate at the height of the pandemic.

 

Over the years, I gave him countless reasons to doubt, lose faith, and simply give up on me, yet he never wavered in his unconditional love for and support of me. Through it all, he was always teaching me, and it wasn’t until I received the award that I truly understood and embraced his life lesson: support others by helping them in any way you can.

 

Gene had a front-row seat to every single one of my failures – and there have been too many to count. During the dinner, I ordered his favorite drink – a scotch, neat – and had it placed near his placard. Every time I glanced at the smoky, brown beverage, I began to tear up as I wanted him to be there. I felt his presence through that empty seat, and I hope I made him proud.

 

After I gave my remarks of gratitude, I picked up that glass of scotch and slowly savored every drop, thankful for the empty seat that allowed him to have a front-row seat to the man he shaped – to the man I aspire to be.

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