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Final Thoughts At Jack Brown’s Memorial Service Come From The Late Leader Himself

Last updated on June 14th, 2024 at 09:19 am

by Bob Reeves/VP-West

Leave it to Jack H. Brown to get in the final word. Even at his own memorial service.

At the longtime Stater Bros. leader’s celebration of life service, held Saturday at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California, a recording from 2008 found in Mr. Brown’s office desk drawer following his death on Nov. 13 at age 78, was played with his family’s blessing for the estimated 2,000 in attendance at the end of the ceremony. A Post-it note attached to the private recording, written by Mr. Brown, simply said, “Jack’s final thoughts to all I loved … JHB 4-27-08”

In part, Brown said in the recording, “…Grieve not, nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk of me as if I am beside you there…

“And when you hear a song or see a bird I loved, please do not let the thought of me be sad for I am loving you just as I always have. You were so good to me. There are so many things I wanted still, things to do, so many things I wanted to say to each of you. Remember, I did not fear. It was just leaving you that was so hard to face … But know this, I loved each of you so…

“To my Stater Bros. family, you, too, were my life. You, too, are my legacy. I loved you all. And I hope I will always be in your hearts, too, for I was never so honored as to be part of your Stater Bros. family. Keep me in your hearts, in your prayers, for I am still standing beside you. I loved you all.”

The service Saturday also included remarks from Stater Bros. Markets President and CEO Pete Van Helden, EVP of Marketing Dennis McIntyre, EVP of Administration/Distribution George Frahm, EVP of Finance and CFO Dave Harris, EVP of Retail Operations Dan Meyer and Vice Chairman of Stater Bros. Holdings Phillip J. Smith.

Following the ceremony, an Antique Warbirds honored Mr. Brown, a proud Navy veteran and military supporter, with a flyover.

Many in the food industry, both in California and across the country, have shared their thoughts and memories of Mr. Brown with The Shelby Report since his passing last month. Following are excerpts from their reminiscences.

Jim Lee, faculty member, USC Marshall School of Business, and former Stater Bros. president and COO: “Jack Brown cared more about others than he did about himself. His philosophy was the foundation for what would become one of the most special and powerful supermarket cultures in the business—the relationship between the Stater Bros. ‘Family’ and ‘Our Jack.’ To Jack, everyone mattered. Whether you were a janitor, clerk, truck driver or executive, Jack made you feel you really were part of a family, and what you did was important and he cared about you. We loved him for it.

“If it were not for Jack Brown, there wouldn’t be a Stater Bros. today. Most people know about the proxy battle in the ’80s, the acquisition of the 43 Lucky and Albertsons stores in the ’90s and the creation of the Norton corporate headquarters and the largest supermarket distribution center under one roof in North America. Each of these major undertakings was essential to the survival and growth of Stater and required Jack to take on substantial personal financial risk, while at the same time declining offers to leave or sell the company. Jack always remained loyal to his Stater family.

“Jack demonstrated the same type of commitment during the Great Recession when he chose to lower prices for our ‘valued customers’ and accept lower profits. I can still hear his words today, ‘They need our help more than ever—when they have more, they will spend more. We will remain loyal to them and they will remember us.’ And they did, with Stater Bros. emerging stronger than ever.

“Despite the financial challenges of the Great Recession and thanks to Jack’s commitment and leadership, we never closed a store or laid off anyone in the stores. Although other sacrifices had to be made, Jack kept his ‘family’ working.

“Unless you worked for Stater Bros., you probably wouldn’t understand the use of the terms ‘family’ and ‘our Jack,’ but if you were fortunate enough to be a part of it, you sure did. We lived it every day and loved our Jack. I am privileged to tell the Jack Brown story to the USC Food Industry Management class every spring. We will never forget Jack Brown.”
• • •
Gary Rocheleau, GSR Retail Food & Drug Consulting: “A legend in the Southern California food industry and a real gentleman. Proud to have known him!”
• • •
Carole Christianson, COO, Western Association of Food Chains: “An industry legend that truly exemplified integrity, courage and compassion. Those of us that were privileged to have his mentorship, support and guidance for many years will be forever grateful. His impact on our industry is tremendous and his legacy will live on.

“Jack served as president of the WAFC in 1988…A very proud Navy veteran, Jack established the patriotic WAFC opening ceremonies with the Marine Corps Band and Color Guard by beginning the ritual with his bosun’s whistle.
“In his memory, may we each cherish those we love and live every day.”
• • •
Dr. Jim Stevenson, director emeritus, Food Industry Management Program, University of Southern California: “Jack Brown was a great leader. He was not only a great leader of Stater Bros. as it remained independent and succeeded while his competitors were being swallowed up by the national chains, he was also a great leader for all of us in the food industry who had the opportunity to know him.

“I appreciated the times Jack came to USC to share his leadership philosophy with our students and faculty. We all learned much from a man who truly loved his company, our industry and our nation. The Food Industry Management Program was proud to honor Jack as our Food Industry Executive of the Year in 1993.”
• • •
Al Carey, CEO, PepsiCo North America: “Jack was a great leader, especially with the frontline of his organization. I recall when an activist investor attempted to take over Stater Bros. back in the early ’90s. Jack was out and new management was in. Jack fought to keep Stater as it was and rallied the troops. There was an outcry from the frontline workers to ‘bring Jack back.’ I never saw anything like it. Workers came out in force and protested that they wanted Jack Brown back as the CEO. It was all over the newspapers and television.

“They got him back and he saved Stater. He led them to greatness because Jack treated his frontline employees with dignity and respect, and they ran through walls for him.”

(Carey also recounts a time when PepsiCo and Stater Bros.’ relationship got off track due to conflicts over trading terms.) “I reached out to Jack in an effort to get our relationship back on track. When we entered his special meeting room adjacent to his office…he told us that ‘only good things happened in this boardroom.’ It was filled with military memorabilia and pictures from great events in the history of Stater Bros. Jack had a special positive energy about him. It was contagious, and the outcome was a win-win for our companies. I knew when we shook hands that it was better than a written contract; we had his word. I was a young and developing executive at that time, and I learned a lot about statesmanship and diplomacy that day from watching Jack in action.

“Finally, I fondly recall the opening of every WAFC convention. Jack would open with the bosun’s whistle and salute to the military. He would always preside over the presentation of the colors by our military and the national anthem. He was a true patriot and a devoted Marine. We will all miss him but we are all better from knowing him.”
• • •
Dick Goodspeed, former president of Vons, and board chair, Unified Grocers: “There are not many people in life you meet that impress you the way Jack Brown did, particularly his loyalty to people—as a friend as well as business associate. Jack, in a lot of respects, was a mentor to me as I entered the WAFC. He showed me the ropes and what was important and what wasn’t important. I knew Jack from the industry before (joining WAFC), but that’s when I got to know the real Jack, how he cared for people and had this passion for helping people be successful.

“We became good friends. Of course, I wasn’t competing against Jack at the time. I was with Lucky Stores…in Northern California. When I came down to Vons (in Southern California), we maintained that friendship. If anything, it even grew closer over the years. He’s just one of those people you couldn’t help but love. He was a very special person.

“(I’ve been) remembering all the kind words he had and words of encouragement, the accolades he sent my way as it relates to Vons. He was just a genuine, sincere, wonderful person. His allegiance to not only his friends but his allegiance to his associates and certainly to his country was obvious; no doubt in anyone’s mind.

“As his health started to decline, he was still the guy that picked up the phone before you did to have another conversation with you. Up ’til the end he was the same guy.

“I could go on and on about him and (wife) Debbie. She certainly played a big role in Jack’s life and…was a real trooper, particularly over the last five years. But he’s on to a better place. But we all had such a love for Jack as the man, and certainly respect for the man as a competitor.”
• • •
Jack “Corky” Evans Jr., former CEO, Tom Thumb: “I remember Jack as a very warm and caring person who treated his truck drivers the same as he did his management team. He just had a love for people and wanted to see all of his employees succeed.

“He loved my dad (Jack Evans Sr.). He had a picture of my dad on his desk and had kept it there since he joined Stater Bros. He said he was what he was today because of my dad, who took a chance on him in the late ’70s. (At the time, Jack Brown) was a vice president for Marsh Supermarkets in Indiana, and somehow he and my dad got together and my dad hired Jack to be president of the Pantry Food Markets in Pasadena, California, which Cullum Cos. owned. After a few years at Pantry, he did such a good job that my dad asked him to be president of American Community Stores in Omaha, Nebraska, where we operated Hinky Dinky Food Stores and some warehouse markets in the Midwest.

“I was working for Tom Thumb when Jack was at Hinky Dinky and Pantry, and we would get together for meetings of the various stores the company owned…so I got to know Jack pretty well through those meetings. We just kind of formed a bond; he said he looked at me as his brother. He always called me ‘Bro.’

“He left our company (in 1981) to return to Stater Bros…(But) Jack and I always stayed in touch after my father died in 1997. My wife got breast cancer about nine or 10 years ago, and I remember Jack sent her yellow roses and called her his ‘Yellow Rose of Texas.’ He stayed in touch and was always concerned about her, which shows how he cared for people.

“His daughter and our daughter were roommates at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, so we would see each other at school functions and parents weekend and things like that…He always said that our family was his family and that’s just the way he looked at the Evans family and quite frankly, we looked the same way at the Brown family.

“Jack Brown was a great friend, a great family man, a great leader in the food industry and above all, a great American. He loved this country and stated it many times. I am going to miss him.”
• • •
Doug Knudsen, Stater Bros. board member and former president-sales at ConAgra: “I owe him a lot. It’s pretty hard for me to put a guy like that into a few statements because he was broad in how he touched people. I consider myself a close friend; we spent a lot of time personally together, but the best thing about him, in my opinion, was his ability to kind of put everybody into the category of ‘family’ and his ability to treat not only his peers but his employees, his enemies and everyone else he dealt with—he didn’t have very many enemies—and made them all feel like you were part of his family.

“I think our first meeting was in probably about 1987, ’88, at FMI. We hit it off, had a dinner, and we just became good friends. We talked multiple times a week when we could…We liked to fish together and went to Canada probably 20 years in a row, fishing salmon. We talked a lot about work, talked a lot about everything, and I learned a lot from Jack, too.

“To me, he’s kind of like the Arnie Palmer of the grocery industry…He’s so patriotic and I know everyone will talk about that, but you can’t ignore it. He…was born on Flag Day, and he told me that day one. He was as patriotic as anyone around, and it’s really guys like him that helped shape this place.

“He called me ‘brother,’ he called a lot of people ‘brother,’ and wasn’t afraid to say when we hung up, ‘I love you, brother.’ He did that to a lot of different people, and he touched us in a big way.

“On the supermarket side, he was very principle-oriented; he really wanted things to be one way. He didn’t change a lot, and he got a lot of criticism sometimes for not making changes, but they (Stater Bros.) have something no one else has, and their customers go there for the reasons of great stores, great prices, great produce, great meat at a value that they felt was good. The people in the stores, they actually know who you are, and that’s kind of a reflection of Jack. He wanted everyone to pass it on.”
• • •
Liz Minyard, former executive, Minyard Food Stores: “He was a great man and he will definitely be missed by all of us who knew him so well and had such high respect for him.

“…When Jack was in Dallas he got to know my dad (M.T. “Buddy” Minyard). Jack Evans Sr. and my dad were friends and had a long history in the supermarket business in Dallas. Then I got to know Jack when I first went on the board of FMI. It was around 1992, and Jack was the first to welcome me and reiterated his respect and admiration for the Evans and the Cullum families and then the Minyard families because we were all in the business together in Dallas.

“Jack was just one of those bigger-than-life people. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man and had a big voice, but the best thing is that he had an even bigger heart. He loved people, he loved the supermarket industry, he loved his customers and his employees. He really loved the supermarket business, and he put all of his efforts and energy and enthusiasm into Stater Bros. And he was obviously the image, and the heart and soul, of Stater Bros.

“He will definitely be missed. I always will think of him as ‘our Jack.’ He was one of a kind; I don’t think there will ever be another one like him in the industry because as you know, the industry has changed a lot, and we don’t have as many family-owned businesses anymore, and a lot of people don’t have the same connection to their businesses.”
• • •
Bob Reeves, VP-West, Shelby Publishing Co.: “Jack Brown, from the first day I met him, seemed a legendary statesman, larger than life. I was being introduced to Jack by my president and publisher, Ron Johnston, as the newest member of the Shelby team, as we were beginning to launch our third edition of The Shelby Report, into the West. He welcomed me with great respect, and it was very early into our conversation that I told him that George Fitzpatrick (past president of Boy’s Markets) and Maxine Fitzpatrick were my stepfather and mother.

“He jumped out of his chair and immediately called Jim Lee (president and COO) into the board room to meet me, as he had great respect for George and loved my mom. We spent the next 15 minutes sharing stories about Boy’s Markets and the legends of the industry he called ‘The Eagles.’ Every time we met thereafter, he always remembered to ask me how my mom was doing.

“In 2011, Jack was being honored by the Illuminators Education Foundation with the Torch Award. At the ceremony, I presented Jack with a handwritten note from Tom Hanks, along with autographed CDs of Tom’s mini-series ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific.’ Over the years, I have had many requests for Tom—who is my former brother-in-law—for this or that. This was the ONLY request he ever honored. I sent him Jack’s bio and told him about how Jack has honored Medal of Honor recipients with a fundraising golf tournament for years and about Jack’s overwhelming patriotism.

“In the note, Tom wrote:
To Jack Brown,
Thanks for your service to our country and your care for your brothers in arms ever since.
With Great Respect
Tom Hanks”

• • •
Ron Johnston, president and publisher, Shelby Publishing Co.: “No one was a better friend and supporter of The Shelby Report than Jack H. Brown. When we began growing our brand of coverage into the West, Jack was the first CEO I called upon for his observations on the competitive landscape. The man never disappointed. His insights and obvious devotion to the ‘Stater Family’ never wavered. Jack always had a folder full of news and photos prepared for his guest, plus a credenza equally stocked with coffee, juices and water to wash down the Krispy Kreme donuts and assorted muffins and pastries.

“Jack knew how to handle the press, consumer or trade. The pastry buffet was a nice touch, but he certainly didn’t need it to get what he wanted. His innate ability to ensure you knew the latest Stater news while telling a story or two was a gift. Combined with his charm, wit and an undying dose of patriotism, Jack Brown’s passion for the grocery business shone through like a red, white and blue rainbow. A proud Navy veteran of the Vietnam era, Jack likewise was admired and respected by the very Medal of Honor winners he so appreciated. In 2011, he was given the Patriot Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

“A 1992 recipient of the Horatio Alger Award, Jack was a fighter all his life. Not in a physical sense, but with his heart, soul and mind. Fighting through the pain of losing a father at the age of 8…finding work to help his mother as she worked to support him…beating back a takeover attempt in February 1986, when Jack boldly gained the unprecedented support of two unions to win back control of Stater Bros. Even the day-to-day challenge of taking care of customers, keeping prices in line, and keeping  families in place as their Stater-employed father, mother, brother or sister were called to service in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Their jobs were waiting and medical insurance covered while serving their country. Jack’s only instructions, ‘Come home safe, come home soon.’

“Though the images of Sept. 11, 2001, were well documented, Jack noticed that one was inexplicably missing from the various photos and videos being distributed. He called on his then ad man to create a poster, including the Pentagon with the World Trade Center towers and Statue of Liberty. Intended for local distribution, the poster somehow found its way inside the military complex. Others wanted to know where could they find one? So the chairman, CEO and president of Stater Bros. had a couple thousand reprinted and shipped out to the Pentagon immediately.

“‘It was the right thing to do, for the right reason.’ This was quintessential Jack Brown. The right man for the job, for all the right reasons.”

Editor’s note: Find a special tribute to Mr. Brown in the January 2017 print edition of The Shelby Report of the West.

About the author

Shelby Team

The Shelby Report delivers complete grocery news and supermarket insights nationwide through the distribution of five monthly regional print and digital editions. Serving the retail food trade since 1967, The Shelby Report is “Region Wise. Nationwide.”

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