November 15, 1999
Life is funny, isn't it? It's so easy to overlook some of the most wonderful things that go on around us. We get caught up reading about events happening in another part of the country or another corner of the world. But if we pay attention and take the time to listen, we'll realize that there's plenty happening in our own communities.
I'd like to share one of the most inspiring stories I can think of, and it involves someone I've known for years. This individual lives in my hometown and is one of the most professional, successful, ethical salespeople I've ever known. You could say he is a legend. His name is Theodore Burke, and he works for the McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. selling advertising space in the respected journal Postgraduate Medicine.
I've known Ted for decades since we shared an apartment in St. Louis when we were both beginning our careers. At that time he worked for the Saturday Evening Post and I worked for Life Magazine, then two of the most-respected publications in the world. After a year or so of rooming together, Ted went his way and I went mine, and it was many years before I saw him again. When I did, he was a volunteer coach for the lightweight football team (for 12- to 14-year-olds) my son was playing for. My son, Randy, thought the world of Coach Burke. And one year Ted and the other coaches led the team to a state championship. It was really something.
Although he was involved in football and I coached in the local hockey program, both of us were so busy with our families and careers that we rarely saw each other. But I did hear news about Ted now and then because we were in the same business. One of my favorite stories involves the time a top McGraw-Hill executive came to Chicago to discuss the company's retirement program. Apparently the meeting went on much too long. Finally, in exasperation, Ted stood up and said something like, "If you don't mind, I would like to excuse myself from this meeting. I have to get back to my job of selling advertising." In short, Ted Burke has always been a salesman's salesman.
A couple of years ago I heard more news about Ted, but this time it wasn't all good. Although he had become an avid runner and was in great physical condition, without any warning his kidneys started to shut down. Dialysis and a kidney transplant followed. In the course of all this he contracted meningitis. Then came prostate cancer and shortly thereafter a heart attack. Then, as a result of the X-rays from his heart treatment, doctors found a spot on one of his lungs. It was biopsied and determined to be malignant. Part of a lung was removed. But guess what? Today Ted Burke is thriving and is still one of the top salespeople with his publication. He didn't let all the terrible diagnoses and setbacks deter him from the job he loves. It's amazing what he has endured without throwing in the towel.
I called Ted a couple of days ago to see how he was doing. He was upbeat and full of enthusiasm. We talked about a number of things, including his lovely daughters Kelly, Megan and Tracey and son Michael. Michael has followed in his father's footsteps and sells advertising space for American Druggist. And among other things we talked about his philosophy of selling: "It's a great profession for anyone who doesn't have an ego problem. You can't take rejection personally. If you do this isn't the business to be in. You know I still get a rush from selling a quarter of a page or a full page. It's the greatest feeling." I also asked him about retiring. "Marilyn (his wife) has talked to me about it!" But then he laughs, and you know he isn't going to retire.
Ted Burke, you've been in my Hall of Fame for years. I admire you for your tenacity. Some people talk the talk, but you, dear friend, have walked the walk. You are the epitome of courage and persistence. To you and your lovely wife of 42 years, I wish the best that life has to offer.
A true winner,
Charles S. Lauer