When Pete Purcell passed away last month we, of course, immediately reported the news on Pundit sister publication PerishableNews.com.
We’ve held back from writing about it here on the Pundit as we have thought about how best to express what his passing symbolizes for this industry.
It is note worthy that when Mr. Purcell died, we received more phone calls than we ever have upon the announcement of a death. This is not because Mr. Purcell was so popular or even well known; it is because the nature of his involvement in the trade was transformational.
We always felt a connection with Mr. Purcell’s work. We launched Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, back in 1985, at a time when Mr. Purcell was at the peak of his influence. At that time, a typical produce industry ad was filled with hand-drawn cartoon art of fruit with phrases such as “Shipping in Season from May through July — call Joe,” and we thought we could help professionalize the industry and that was really in lockstep with Mr. Purcell’s mantra.
In his seminars and consulting, he emphasized a new professionalism for the industry. He wanted to elevate it. He used to often point out how worthless it was for the typical produce salesperson to use meaningless phrases — describing the fruit as “diamonds” was an example he often used.
He wanted marketers to be professionals and offer real value. He urged a move away from consignment selling because he didn’t see that as selling at all.
It is the painful truth that when those who are successful in a transformational way pass away, any attempt to describe their achievements will sound trite to those who never knew any other world. So if we go to young people in the trade and say that Pete Purcell taught us that salespeople should have accurate and valuable information about the products they sell; that they should work hard to communicate that value to buyers, and that they should fight to get fair value for what they sell and not just cuff it away… he will sound unoriginal, even pedantic and derivative, certainly not revolutionary.
World renowned twentieth-century economist John Maynard Keynes, though, gave us this quote:
“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.
And so it is that people who never met Pete Purcell, never took his seminar, never even heard of him, are every day acting as slaves to ideas he promulgated and popularized decades ago.
Of course, the calls we received were from people Peter Purcell touched and that was the rest of the story. If his ideas were transformational, his personal commitment to those he worked with was legend. You hired a consultant and you got a mentor for your children in the business, a PR agent and a friend.
What does one call a life when one has ideas that have made a difference for everyone and a heart that touched deeply those he came to know? We call it a life well lived.
Deepest condolences to Yvonne Purcell, his wife of 61 years, as well as to his 5 daughters and their spouses, his 11 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren. The memory of the righteous is a blessing.