Jeff Jeffers loved to talk about his business and his community, both of which were his life.
On three occasions he took me on tours of his buildings, the fruits of his labor, and in doing so gave me a glimpse into his business acumen, his love of his community and his enormous heart.
It was obvious from the start he was proud of the work he had done, optimistic about the decisions he’d made and what was ahead.
And the commentary was priceless, enthralling to someone with little business sense, even less knowledge of Richmond’s industrial history and a burgeoning sense of community.
The tour started with a walk through his primary building, sidestepping caskets in assembly line motion, past molds, brackets, handles and all the other paraphernalia that goes into the construction process.
Amidst the smell of paint and glue, with metals grinding and caskets rolling in all states of completion, Jeff was the perfect tour guide.
His commentary was straight forward with no boast of moneys earned and spent nor his place as the city’s industrial leader. There was, however, reference with more than a hint of pride, to his donations to the city’s growth, whether in industry or nonprofit projects like the Boys & Girls Club or the city’s fireworks celebrations.
But there was no evidence that the telling was for bragging sake. It was only incidental, mixed in with the description of processes involved in acquisitions, to the building of caskets and building of a community, to adjustments he’s made to an ever-changing business climate and the happiness he derived from what he had built.
It was his kingdom and he was sovereign.
He talked nonstop, punctuating triumphs and challenges with that funny high-pitched giggle that accentuated the difficulty, unpredictability, even absurdity, of his bold ongoing march to success.
He knew every employee, greeted them by name and they all responded, happy, not surprised, to see him in their midst.
Next, we jumped into his golf cart and toured a second then third building, soaring past endless lines of hanging metal parts awaiting paint, past mounds of auto and truck parts and metal trays in various states of preparation and transport to keep other industry moving.
He was in his element and it was obvious he loved what he had quietly built. He told stories with relish of buildings he purchased, retrofitted, of previous owners, his original plans and how those plans changed. He never dwelt on the negative, never disparaged civic leaders, business competitors and associates and always demonstrated real affection for the people who worked for him past and present.
He was one of a kind and, when the tour ended, I felt privileged to get this brief but fascinating glimpse into a life of struggle and accomplishment. Now, it is hard to believe he is gone and unnerving to think of the void left in this community by his passing.
He was a tribute to our past, an age when manufacturing was king, and a constant reminder of the importance of dedication to craft and community and to the belief that all things are possible.
Though difficult to envision a future without him, Jeff Jeffers’ memory will live on through his commitment, accomplishment and example.