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Elbert Hubbard And John Davey: Shared American Values

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One of the most eloquent admirers of John Davey was Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), a wildly popular and eccentric American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher in the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Hubbard was famous for his biographies of great people that he admired, in part written to seek inspiration within himself. Like my grandfather, it's possible that you've never heard of him.

However, the two men certainly knew of each other. The following are excerpts written about John Davey from Hubbard's Notebook (1927), a compilation of writings published after Hubbard's untimely death:

It is a great man who can introduce us to the divinities that surround us,
and make us realize our sacred relationships. I met such a man some
months ago.
...John Davey. He is sixty years old, but looks forty, and at times acts
twenty....[He's] the Father of Tree-surgery. I like to call him the Tree's
Brother. No man I ever...knew was so blended with the leaves --
no man I ever knew possessed such a sympathy for waving, swaying
saplings as this man.
...John Davey is a genius, for a genius is one who has the faculty of
abandonment to an idea, or a cause. He is a genius with the innocence
of childhood, and the intellect of a man.

Of John Davey's impassioned employees, Hubbard says the following:

When you hear of a "Davey gang" being at work somewhere, go and
see them. They are a type. Bare of head and of arm, brown, small or
of medium size, silent, they work with a precision, and intelligence
and an earnestness that is a delight to see....Their zeal is the zeal of
John Davey....They are big factors in reclaiming the earth for the joy
of man.

The more I've read about the life of Elbert Hubbard, the more I understand his admiration of my grandfather, and how his writing relates to my Davey and Pan Am families. His philosophy evolved from a somewhat loose socialist ideology into an ardent defense of free enterprise and American know-how.

Hubbard's most famous work, "A Message to Garcia," an inspirational short essay written in 1899, sold more than 40 million copies, and catapulted him to fame and fortune. Written in just one hour after a lazy worker sparked Hubbard's ire, the piece has almost nothing to do with the message or the man of its title.

The story takes place during a war between Spain and the United States, when it was essential for President McKinley to communicate with Garcia, the leader of the Insurgents, who was somewhere in the jungles of Cuba. The hero is a man named Rowan, who loyally carried out his duty promptly - with no questions - and conveyed a message to Garcia. There was no fanfare; he just carried out his duty.

Following the short essay's publication, the phrase "to take a message to Garcia" became for many years a popular American slang expression for taking initiative. The message in the essay, as well as in Hubbard's other writings is powerful: be a person of integrity, keep your word, and carry out the work that you are asked to do quickly, efficiently, and with integrity. He also emphasized the importance of loyalty and perseverance. No wonder he admired my grandfather, whose life epitomized these values.

From, I found the following recommendation for Hubbard's Message to Garcia:

Hubbards's breezy, snarky, cynical voice - half Mark Twain and half
Jerry Seinfeld - elevates this brief...memorable treatise of common
sense....His words of bemused wisdom have endured because pretty
much everything he says is true.

Hubbard's beliefs and writings also apply to my experience of the attitude of Juan Trippe and Pan Am toward the employees. Once hired by Pan Am, we were expected to be intelligent, able to think for ourselves, and to solve whatever problems we encountered without much supervision. After all, we were scattered all over the world without the communication systems in place today. We former Pan Am employees can all remember countless situations in which we were called upon to be creative, to work endless hours until a situation was resolved, and to be willing to face problems that appeared impossible. It was the source of the loyalty and pride we felt about being part of the Pan Am family.

As a final note about Elbert Hubbard, I was awed by the irony of his dramatic and untimely death. One of his most poignant essays was written in 1912, following the sinking of the Titanic. In it, he pays tribute to those brave passengers who sacrificed their lives in order to save the women and children. On this "night of a thousand stars," he takes us onboard the sinking ship to experience the panic and heroism taking place. To cite one example, he mentions Ida and Isador Straus, co-owners of Macy's Department Store, who chose not to be parted and went down with the ship.

On May 1, 1915, three years after his essay about the Titanic disaster was published - and just before the outbreak of World War I - Hubbard and his wife Alice boarded RMS Lusitania in New York. He was on a mission to interview Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany.

On May 7, just eleven miles off the coast of Ireland, the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-Boat. A letter from a survivor to Hubbard's son describes how the Hubbards, linked arm in arm, made the same decision as the Strauses, and disappeared back into their stateroom, prepared to go down with the ship together. Their decision is not surprising, but the ending is nevertheless shocking.

Hubbard's community of artists and craftsmen, known as the Roycrofters, stayed in business until it was closed in 1939 by Elbert Hubbard II. Interestingly, the infamous L. Ron Hubbard was a nephew by adoption.

In writing about the Davey Tree Expert Company and Pan American World Airways, seemingly very different enterprises, I'm detailing a tradition of excellence and integrity that spanned the American Century. Both John Davey and Juan Trippe understood the value of a company as family, and promoted a feeling of loyalty and specialness. I feel so lucky to have experienced both of them.

That's why it was a delight to encounter Elbert Hubbard, another figure from the beginning of America's ascendancy, who not only epitomized these crucial values himself, but also recognized them in John Davey.

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