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Saying Goodbye to a Friend

April 21, 2010

Saying goodbye to a friend.

This week I said goodbye to a friend, a man who was a major influence on my life in Tyler, Texas. His name was Bruce Brookshire. For many years, he was President then Chairman of Brookshire Grocery Company, one of America’s largest privately owned companies. Most of Halftime is about moving from success to significance, from commercial life to ministry and public service of one sort or another. There is a different way of living that, if anything, is more challenging than changing careers. It is to live your faith out in the whole of your life: corporate, family, church and civic – to be a living example of faith and love. Such a person was my friend, who died peacefully in his home at age 81 this past weekend.

My faithful assistant, BJ, discovered the text of some remarks I made some eighteen years ago on the occasion of Bruce Brookshire receiving Tyler’s Distinguished Citizen Award. I will repeat those words here as an example of a remarkable man who influenced, perhaps as much as any minister, the values of the city Linda and I lived in for 28 years. He led by example through his whole life.

Remarks for My Friend, Bruce Brookshire,

On The Occasion of the

Distinguished Citizen Award Dinner

By Bob Buford

Harvey Convention Center

January 30, 1992

I am sure we all realize what a rare occasion this is, that Bruce allows his friends to do something honoring him – probably once in a lifetime. I have been allotted five minutes so I have organized what I want to say as an acronym – S-E-L-F.

I will save the “S” for last.

The “E” stands for ENCOURAGER. Bruce is the most encouraging person I know. He gives everyone the gift of remembering their name. He reaches out to everyone, treating equally people from all walks of life.

Bruce is a model of civility, caring and good manners. You see a piece of Bruce in every Brookshire Grocery Company employee. They smile. They really want to help. It really is a different experience than dealing with other retail service companies.

The “L” stands for LEADER. Bruce has great admiration for Winston Churchill. Churchill was fond of quoting the first rule of the Israeli Defense Manual which is:

“The Soldier has a right to competent command.”

Bruce’s people – he calls them partners and treats them as such – have the good fortune of competent command. There are 7600 Brookshire partners now. Thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, more are ex-employees who carry with them for a lifetime lessons of good grooming, discipline and good manners learned from their work experience at Brookshires.

Brookshires is nonunion because the employees do not feel that they need a union. In a time when General Motors lays off 74,000 people the week before Christmas, when IBM lays off 20,000 people, Brookshire employees have never had a layoff. I know from others that Bruce and the Board feel that a steady predictable job for the Brookshire employee is perhaps the most important responsibility of the Board.

Bruce has a sign in his office which says:

“People first, profits will follow.”

The “F” stands for FRIEND. Bruce was my across the street neighbor for years in Tyler. We have spent many pleasant evenings together. Bruce was always natural and easy to be with.

Bruce was with the first group of friends to arrive at my door the night my son, Ross, died five years ago. His caring and concern is genuine, not for a purpose.

The “S” stands for SAINT. Some people think of saints as little people in white robes with wings on their backs gliding along one foot above the ground. Bruce is a WORKING SAINT. He is a priest to his company as well as its President.

Bruce has the gift of enthusiasm. The root word for enthusiasm is “en-theos” – God in you.

Bruce is a wonderful husband, father, grandfather.

His deepest inner belief and his outward behavior are inseparable. You do not notice his ministry because it is seamless with his work life and his family life. His witness is through his life not through his press agent. Bruce is not a celebrity executive in the Donald Trump-Lee Iacocca mold. He does not accept media interviews or make trade convention appearances even though he is frequently asked to do so. The up front person in the board meeting is the same as the day after day person all of us know. Through good times and bad times he is there for:

His friends

His family

His partners

His customers.

That is who he has poured his life into. And as one of those people, I am proud to get to be the one to publicly represent so many by saying thank you tonight.

So What about You?

1. List two or three role models whose lives influenced yours.

2. Who left the largest imprint on the city you live in?

3. How would you describe your sphere of influence?

Pass It On:

As you may know, I have chosen to write “My Next Book” in short chapters every two or three weeks and to distribute it free by email to anyone who might be interested. It is a fast, fluid, flexible, free and fun way for me to observe the passing show of life and to stay in touch with lots of people.

I encourage readers to forward to “their list” any of these chapters and many people do this. Also registration is easy by simply adding your name and email address at:

The current chapter and previous chapters are archived at:
Some of the chapters are available in hardcover in my book, Beyond Halftime®: Practical Wisdom for Your Second Half .

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 7, 2010 3:29 PM

    Bob, thank you for this moving tribute to your friend—it’s obvious what an incredible person and role model he was.

    I was pointed to this post by my boss, Pamela. She told me how this made her think of her father, and what an inspiring presence he has been in her life. I know she’d love to share a couple of stories she posted on her blog about him: “Now That’s a Pencil” ( and “Continuous Communication (

    I hope you enjoy the stories, and thank you again for your beautiful post!


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