An incredibly wonderful person whom I once had the honor of working with died this week. From cancer. I learned about it through online social networking. I had to re-read the post over again. I checked Twitter. It didn't seem possible. Norman Miller
? Proper Management? Well, he seemed immune to... anything that could take a man down.
"He carried a silver briefcase."
It's the first detail that comes to my mind when I remember Norman Miller and 1996. And though it probably pales in comparison to the myriad of other things he did, for me, it sort of is a symbol for who he was then and what I learned from him.
I showed up at Caffe Milano in February of that year looking for a job as a server. I was newly divorced, newly relocated to Nashville and quite desperate to survive in the music industry. Word of mouth led me to the downtown venue, not yet open, construction in full swing. The original founder/creator of Caffe Milano, Pino Squillace, along with Restaurant Manager, Lori Bowman, hired me as an Assistant Restaurant Manager, a title unearned, that boggles my mind today. I worked with Lori for only a short time before being moved to the position of Assistant to the Board of Governors. Norman was a chief investor along with other Nashville notables in the music industry.
I spent most my days with Steve Lorenz, Secretary to the Board of Governors. That is to say that I spent most of my time worrying if anyone was ever going to make money, how much money our investors could stand to lose, wether or not paycheck money was in the proper accounts and how long we could all keep working our unbelievable hours. No one from those early days of Caffe Milano had it easy.
To make matters more uncomfortable, the club shared offices with Proper Management, Norman's company. I knew nothing of the magnitude of influence and respect that Norman had within the Christian music scene, but over the course of my time there, it became apparent to me that I was well out of my league. On that same thread, Norman had no desire to run a restaurant/music venue. Protecting his interests, as well as his artists, he simply wanted the problems fixed, the customers and staff happy. But there he was, at our staff meetings, pen in hand, perfectly dressed, slacks just pressed, not a hair out of place, an edge in his voice as he tried to move us to the point of our stories, to the beginning of any solution.
Back then, Norman had a glass desk. His office was always pristine. When he packed his briefcase up for the day to go home to his wife and son, he left the area magazine perfect. If Norman was coming down for lunch in the restaurant, we scrambled. At staff meetings we listened to his blatantly honest reviews with all the fear of todays reality TV show contestants. He did not mince words. He did not get personal. He delivered the news calmly, in his slight British accent, with a leaders presence I have yet seen duplicated.
For the most part, Norman and his team did their thing while those involved in Caffe Milano hobbled on. But sometimes our worlds mixed and the stark contrast of our successes were laid out for us to see. One such incident that I cannot forget was an afternoon when James Hodgin and I went into the VIP room that overlooked the club to discuss the nights schedule. Norman had used the room before us and someone had left a Kinko copied booklet on the coffee table. On the cover was the name Avalon
. James and I knew this was a new singing group that Proper Management was in the process of getting off the ground. Inside was a 5-10 year plan for the group. Basic details, right up to when they were projected to go Gold, go Platinum and win Artist of the Year. You see Norman was good at what he did and he could make that kind of plan and be right. Which of course, he was, as Avalon went on to become even more successful than was eluded to in the booklet we found that day.
The confidence, the intelligence, the efficiency this man possessed! I guess we were all a bit intimidated by him. That being said, if you know me, you know how I admired him. He was brilliant. Everything I ever wanted to be.
I remember him so well and with such fondness because he was all that and human too. HIs humanity and compassion were in his conversations with his friend Steve, when he spoke of his wife, when he chatted one on one with any of us at any given time. He was polite, charming and encouraging. Power ruins even the gentlest person, but Norman kept his reality in tact.
I know most people will think about Norman and speak of all the amazing things he did within his industry. The roster of artists he elevated and the productions he created are, indeed, incredible. But I love my memories of tired Norman looking at me and Steve saying "I don't care how it gets fixed, just fix it." I love that he listed to us, that for all his accomplishments he was still a man with a family, a job to do and integrity that never wavered. As crazy as it is, I learned so much from him in the every day stuff. I am better for having known him.
Norman, thank you. May your journey go on.