I’m at that awkward age where I’m able to remember what a great country America has been and how the freedom we have here enables anyone to rise from abject poverty to a millionaire if he/she has the right work ethic and the right values. Maybe that’s why it bothers me so to see what political correctness and the attempts by the Obama administration to “fundamentally change America as we know it” have done to us as a culture as well as a country.
And nothing better illustrates those simple, old-fashioned values than the life of a gentleman who passed away this past week-end: country music star and successful businessman Jimmy Dean. Many people remember him for his Jimmy Dean Sausages (and the folksy advertisements he did for the company). Most people my age and older also remember him for his success in the field of country music.
I’ll always remember him for both, but principally as a country gentleman who stood by his word and expected others to do the same. He personified all of the promise that America offers to those who are willing to work for their goals.
Dean grew up during the Great Depression in Plainview, TX. He attributed his work ethic to his mother (Dean’s father abandoned his family when Dean was a child). His mother made clothes for all her children out of old sugar sacks rather than take FDR’s “New Deal” government duds. That made a lasting impression on Dean who would pay tribute to his mother many years later in a narrative song called “I.O.U.”
His folksy, gentlemanly demeanor was no put-on, but he wasn’t a country bumpkin either. Like Dolly Parton, Dean knew how to best market himself and his products. When he merged Jimmy Dean Sausages with Sara Lee Products, he became more wealthy than he could have ever imagined, but kept the low-key persona which continued to grow the brand… until new management took over and, in 2003, phased him out as company spokesman for his own product, breaking an agreement that he would continue to be spokesman of Jimmy Dean products as long as he was alive.
That experience left a bitter taste in his mouth. The company soon found out, however, that their country boy expected others to live up to their words too. Dean released a statement announcing “Somebody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee.” He then sued the company, primarily on principal.
What bothered him most about his dismissal as spokesman wasn’t so much losing the job – he had all the money he would need for the rest of his life. He would later say in an interview in 2004:
“If people would just keep their word. I had a saying when I was running my own company. I said, ‘Do what you say you’re gonna do when you say you’re gonna do it, and try to do it a little better than you said you would’. Boy, that will work so well in business. I was told ‘You are the spokesman for as long as you live and you are the chairman of the board and we like the way the company is running’. They were crazy about it when they bought it. Then they got this whole new management team that came in and it was like ‘We’re going to show you country boy, and all your people, how to run a company’.”
Dean’s philosophy wasn’t just for business, however. It’s how he lived his life. And these days of fake transparency, political correctness, and the “Do unto others before they do unto you” approach so many take, surely we could all use a little more character like Mr. Dean. He’d be the first person to tell you he had a lot of ham in him. But there was no bull about him.
Most tributes to Jimmy Dean feature his biggest hit, “Big Bad John.” But I found a real treat so share with you — something that personifies Dean’s character. Good-bye Jimmy Dean… to paraphrase your biggest hit, you were “a big, big man…” Perhaps more important: Your character represented a lot of what made this country great.