Missing Gene Cesario in Long Beach

Thursday August 9, 2012 | Filed under: News About ASI

Last night, walking down the street here in Long Beach, where I’m attending the SAAC Show, I looked ahead and remembered a couple of years ago, in the very spot, seeing two people walking hand in hand.

Theirs was a slow pace, a pace practiced through many years of walking together.

As I approached them that night, I saw it was my friend Gene Cesario and his lovely and dear wife Maria. We exchanged some friendly comments about their dinner plans, how much he liked being at shows, and then, practically on cue, Gene launched into three or four ideas about ways ASI should do such-and-such to help suppliers and protect the distributor-supplier relationship he was so passionate about.

Last night, Gene and Maria weren’t on that sidewalk, and I missed them.

Last week, after complications from heart surgery, Gene passed away.

In an industry as large as ours, with probably 400,000 people or so, it’s impossible to know everyone and impossible to comment or acknowledge every life event.

But Gene Cesario really was special, and I think the nearly 50 years he devoted to helping build this industry deserves particular mention.

I met Gene eight or nine years ago, just after I joined ASI, when he called to find out who was now “running that big machine up in Philadelphia.” He had lots of ideas and observations, even on the introductory call, and wasn’t hesitant to share them with the force years of authority bring but with a manner that was instructional, not preachy.

It was around that time, in 2003, that Gene decided retirement wasn’t busy enough and he launched APS (Advertising Product Suppliers), an organization designed to give a louder voice to suppliers in their dealings with PPAI, ASI and others.

He gave APS his all during the next years, calling me often to quiz me, advise me, find out how I was doing after the passing of my parents, see if I would speak at an event, tell me of his latest dustup with someone he didn’t think was doing the right thing for the industry.

Gene wasn’t about himself in starting and nurturing APS, by the way. This wasn’t an ego play for a retiree with too much time on his hands. This was about real work, real goals, real accomplishment.

He was an insightful, driven industry executive. Gene told me about the past, but he didn’t dwell in it. He was looking to the future, and trying to help people understand how the past could inform that vision.

Gene was a true professional. I only once really heard him dress someone down in a public setting. He told them they were “full of ----.”  He was right, and even the person Gene was describing agreed.

He also made sure everyone’s views were heard, and didn’t hold back when he thought someone should think a little differently about an issue. We didn’t always agree, to be sure, but I never once felt he held a grudge or didn’t appreciate my viewpoint and didn’t try to at least see things through my eyes.

Gene was the kind of guy who would say: “We’ll just have to disagree on this. Now, let’s get to the ballpark before the Rangers game is over! I’ll buy you a beer.”

In his official 47 years in the industry, Gene received more than a dozen awards in acknowledgement of his dedication, experience – and especially his volunteer work. In honor of that service, his family suggests contributions to the Promotional Products Education Foundation (c/o Foundation Manager Sara Besley, sarab@ppai.org).

Maria, whose hand Gene held for 53 years, and his three children are joined by all of us in missing a wonderful guy.

Take care, Gene. Thanks for all you’ve done.