Editor’s Note: William Dunk, head of William Dunk Partners, is an internationally known business consultant from Chapel Hill. Gods. Neither was a hero, but certainly each is a god. Last week Mr. Stanley Marcus, a.k.a. Mr. Dallas, and Ms. Peggy Lee, born Norma Delores Egstrom, shuffled off their last mortal coils and ambled up Mount Olympus to join Zeus. Each had figured in our last two Global Province letters: Mr. Marcus because of his ruminations on elegance lost and Ms. Lee for her song, “Is That All There Is?” Each was unstoppable, the spirit never flagging in the face of illness, commercial impediments, or other earthly impossibilities. Each made it happen to the very end.

Remembering Stanley Marcus

We had the pleasure of a very long dinner with Mr. Marcus at the old, reliable Adolphus Hotel in Dallas a month or so ago, just a short walk away from the old flagship Neiman Marcus downtown, which we much preferred to the mall affairs. Accused by us of putting Dallas on the map, he simply said it wasn’t true.

At 96, as he sighed, his body had deserted him, but the mind was as resilient as ever. We both contemplated some new projects together, all infirmities cast to the side. We learned in the recent New York Times obituary that he was voted the ugliest boy in his high school class, which seems odd to us. Cerebral, fast, capable of telling observations, he was so kinetic that one just did not pay attention to his looks.

As a kindness to us he wrote an essay for the Zindart 1999 Annual Report (see www.zindart.com) called “About the Man Who Collected Everything,” which was very appropriate for a Chinese collectibles producer. I gave that title to the words he penned: he simply did collect everything and everybody.

‘A lot of bad times’ for the nightingale

Peggy Lee. We grew up in those fifties and sixties when Peggy Lee was gliding by. But we never particularly paid attention to her, since other more jarring chanteuses commanded our idolatry. In the late eighties, however, we had lunch outside by the Long Island Sound in the warm idyllic air with a Chesebrough Pond’s executive who knew how to be droll and who radiated a little sadness. As we talked about the turns of business and career, he blurted, “Is That All There Is?” Ever since then we have been paying attention to Ms. Peggy Lee.

What you never know about a songmaker is that a lot of bad times go into the nightingale strains that pour from the soul. Orpheus from Hades. Losing her mother at age 4, she bore up against a father who tippled too much and a stepmother who beat, strapped, and dragged her about. After a bout of pneumonia in 1958, she had resurgent breathing problems until her death, so she kept oxygen close at hand. It gave her relief both before and after many a performance. Dealing with a bad heart, diabetes, and even occasional deafness, she just kept singing. Unlike Marcus who spanned almost a century, she was a youngster when she died at 81.

As we said, we didn’t notice her at first. She was a master of understatement. We’re reminded, however, of our springer spaniel who is much more attentive to us when we speak in a whisper than when we shout. Better to talk softly and carry a big spirit. After a while, like Ms. Lee, you will be heard, soft and clear.

Swimming upstream

When all the world is floating down river –lazy and fat– the quality swim upstream, defying the aimlessness and commonness of their times.

Stanley Marcus pushed exceptional merchandise, big-style service, and a spirit of inquiry when designer labels and political correctness were used as packaging for all sorts of products without content.

Peggy Lee lulled us with her soft style, but symbolized how well determination will be heard. We like the fact that she won two royalty lawsuits against the sharks of Hollywood, getting $2.3 million from Disney in 1992 and a part of a $4.75 million settlement from Universal Music Group later on. Each made quality happen, because neither was a pushover, both knowing who they were and where they were headed. We trust both are still on their way.

Obits come to life

The several write-ups of Mr. Marcus and Mr. Lee we have read in the papers have been first rate. Obituaries have turned into an art form — a little noticed trend and one of the few writing arenas where things have actually gotten better. Not only have the daily newspapers beefed up their morgues (often crafting the obits at leisure well before their subjects die), but magazines such as the Economist have lately gotten into the business, using the obit as an endpiece for the magazine.

Are the papers ministering to an aging population (a demographic of all the developed countries), or is some veneration for our forebears creeping into the national consciousness? The historian David McCullough’s great success with John Adams, and A&E’s biography series, are further evidence of the growing interest in people past. As it happens, this is one thing the print media does very much better than the broadcasters. At any rate, obituaries, which are usually eulogies, turn out to be a marvelous way of praising the gods.

P.S. These very prolific gods will please you creatively. Amongst Stanley Marcus’s works are Minding the Store; Quest for the Best; The Viewpoints of Stanley Marcus; Stanley Marcus from A to Z; Henry Dreyfus; American Greats; and His and Hers. To catch Ms. Lee, get her CDs, such as All-Time Greatest Hits and The Best of Miss Peggy Lee: The Blues and Jazz Sessions.

For a description of William Dunk Partners, Inc., see www.globalprovince.com/williamdunkpartners.htm