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‘Wrestling Alligators’ & Other Jack Wayman Stories

It took eight speakers, and two impromptu comments from the audience, to talk about Jack Wayman during the Consumer Electronics Association’s heartfelt and moving industry memorial service today at the Grand Hyatt hotel here in New York.

If you knew Jack — either personally or by reputation — in his roles as founder of CEA, International CES and overall pied piper of the industry over the years, the number of speakers for such a grand personality seemed to be about right.

Jack died 92 years young on Labor Day weekend, but this was the industry’s way of saying goodbye, and CEA did it in grand style with close friends and colleagues in attendance.

I said my piece about Jack in a blog I did a few months ago. But these are some of the comments I scribbled down from a few of the speakers, which included one of his daughters.

Richard Ekstract, founder of TWICE and former CEO of Viare Publishing, commented, “Jack always knew how to pick up the phone, and today where more people email, in tribute to him, I began to call people instead of email.” He said the result was two dinner invitations and the sale of a painting he was going to give away.

Marcia Grand, former publisher of TWICE, said of the first time she saw Jack at CES, “I saw this handsome guy in the distance in a yellow jacket [his trademark show sports jacket for years] and said, ‘Yellow doesn’t look good on everyone but Jack … maybe.’ ” She noted, “Jack believed in getting the job done,” which is why he was so successful with CES to “get people together and make things happen.”

Jim Barry, CEA’s media spokesman, worked with Jack for two decades, when they both toured the country: “I got the ‘fever’ of CE, as Jack called it, after my first interview with him when I joined Dealerscope in 1978. After the call I said to myself, ‘Well this is a really exciting and interesting business.’ ” Barry said he misses Jack’s calls, where he would say hello by saying, “Nyack Jack, or Colorado Jack or Hamptons Jack, depending upon where he was calling from.” They would discuss politics, history, sports, “and industry news … and industry gossip.” Barry said he will miss the jokes and the banter on the phone with his friend.

Pete McCloskey, former president of the Electronic Industries Association, was introduced by Gary Shapiro, president/CEO of CEA. McCloskey got one of the bigger laughs of the ceremony — yes, there was plenty of that at this memorial service — by opening his remarks by asking for some sympathy: “Yes, I was Jack and Gary’s boss for 23 years.”

He revealed two new facts about Wayman that few knew: One, Jack was adopted and never knew his birth parents. “I think that made him prejudice free [since] he seemed to judge people on what they accomplished.”

McCloskey also revealed that Wayman, who was a fine athlete at Davidson College and loved tennis, got a job in his home state of Florida as a young man, “dressed as a Seminole Indian to wrestle alligators, which was perfect training for running trade shows.”

Jessica Wayman, his daughter, spoke to represent his family and immediately said, “Alligator wrestler? I never heard of that one,” to the laughter of many. She then spoke movingly about her father, saying, “He showed up to life like nobody I have ever met,” to which anyone in the assembled gathering could completely agree.

The service was held, appropriately enough, the afternoon of the CE Hall of Fame ceremony here in New York, but more appropriately, a day before Veterans Day.

Only in recent years did many of us find out — since Jack never mentioned it — that he served in Europe during World War II as a combat infantry commander during D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, earning him the Silver Star, two Purple Hearts and other citations, as well as being inducted by the Government of France as a Chevailer for his military service, receiving the French Medal of Honor.

In closing, an American flag was presented by longtime colleague Major General (Ret.) Mark V. Rosenker, U.S. Air Force Reserve.

An honored veteran; father of five children, 13 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren; founder of CES; champion of the CE industry; and treasured colleague, friend and mentor to so many. If you want to remember Jack, donations may be made in his name to Davidson College and the CEA Foundation.