The memorandum was beautifully written by her two sons, Keith and Rance Crain. It talked about their mother, Gertrude, who was retiring after 40 years with Crain Communications, the parent company of Modern Healthcare. "Mom loves all of you and is fiercely proud of all you have accomplished," read the concluding paragraph of the note to all employees. "You are as much her family as we are." Since the announcement was made on May 15 that Mrs. Crain no longer would be involved in the day-to-day activities of running the company, I've thought a lot about her and what she has meant to me over the 20 years I've known her.
Crain Communications purchased Modern Healthcare from McGraw-Hill in 1976, and I joined the company in July of that year as publisher. The magazine wasn't doing well. Advertising revenues were down, and readership was dwindling. Staff morale was virtually nonexistent. Many reporters and advertising salespeople had resigned. So one of my first priorities was to find competent editorial staffers and salespeople to replace those who had left. That's when I sought out Rance Crain for advice. "Hire people who live up to my mother's standards," he told me. "Ladies and gentlemen who love their work and give every day 100%." I've never forgotten that. It was so refreshing to hear the president of a company talk about his mother that way, and he made it clear she set the tone for the company. That was my first impression of Mrs. Crain, but there was plenty more to learn about her.
How would I describe her? To me she's someone who embodies all the things one would attribute to the word lady. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a lady as "a woman having the refined habits and gentle manners often associated with breeding and culture." That's Gertrude Crain.
I've had the pleasure of being with Mrs. Crain at various social events, and dancing is something she's always enjoyed immensely. I've been her partner many times, and as we danced she liked to reminisce about her husband, the late G.D. Crain, founder of Crain Communications. She lost him in 1973, and when she talked about him you knew how much she missed him. That torch has never dimmed.
Another vivid memory is the time Mrs. Crain, myself and some of my colleagues were on the company plane headed for New York. The weather was fine, but one or two of the people on board didn't particularly like to fly. Then the pilot told us to make sure our seat belts were fastened tightly because we were going to make an emergency landing in Erie, Pa., due to a mechanical problem. I think all of us were a little nervous, but Mrs. Crain kept chatting with us until we landed, as though everything were normal. Later we found out a light in the cockpit showed an overheated generator, which could have been a serious problem. You had to be there to see the grace and charm of a lady in a tight situation. But then what would you expect from someone who has flown in hot-air balloons with Malcolm Forbes, went around a racetrack at 160 mph with a professional driver and on her 80th birthday went parasailing?
I could go on and on. She is just fun to be with. She's always had energy that would make individuals half her age look like they should be put out to pasture. And what's always apparent about Gertrude Crain is her humility and sense of humor. Of course her family is the No. 1 priority in her life. She loves her sons and what they have accomplished and the grandchildren who have come along. I know that's where she wants to be now.
I'll never forget one time when Mrs. Crain asked me to come to her office. She suggested that since I had been with the company for a number of years she wouldn't object if I called her by her first name. I told her how flattered I was by her invitation but that I just couldn't do that because I held her in such high regard. But with your permission, Gertrude, I want you to know how much all of us love you. And whenever you need a dance partner, I'd be delighted.
Dance with me,Charles S. Lauer