Cliff wanted to tell his own story…from the heart!
Once upon a time, at Michael Reese Hospital, on the near North side of Chicago a baby was born. Cliff Lavin…me!
Clifford (From a surname which was originally from a place name meaning “ford by a cliff” in Old English) was born on May 15, 1947 to Lorraine Klasky Greenwald, a high school dropout, part time artist and at one point, a professional dancer in nightclubs and even in a modern dance troop that toured South America on a state department culture exchange before World War II. My biological father was Arthur Greenwald, a solder in the war and later a college poetry professor at the University of Chicago for his entire career. They were divorced when I was six months old. I saw him at weekend visitations until I was six and then he disappeared out of my life until I hired a detective to find him some 40 years later. But that is another story!
The early years were spent in Chicago. My first memories of life were at about 3. I recall the beach, our street (Sheridan Road) and the studio apartment in a very old brownstone tenement building where my mother lived close to her parent’s one bedroom apartment next door. I would like to say their choice was due to the housing shortage after the war, but that was not the case. They were a very poor family and I recall there were three or four similar families living on the floor with a single bathroom at the end of the hall. My mother later recalled the building would not even qualify as a welfare level housing today.
When I was five, my life changed forever. She remarried in 1952. His name was Ira L. Lavin, from a very successful family (his father, George Lavin, was the Assistant Attorney General for Illinois) and he was a partner in an advertising agency in Chicago at the time. We moved from a tenement on Sheridan Road to a four-bedroom apartment with a doorman on the gold coast of Chicago overlooking Lake Michigan. Talk about a culture shock; that was quite a week!
In 1959, while living in the frigid climate of the upper mid-west, my mom became ill and the doctor said living in Michigan was killing her and if she did not move to the desert, she would be dead in a year. I recall really liked living in the desert. I got to ride horses, shoot guns and enjoy the pool…what was not to like! The weather was hot in the summer and delightful in the winter. Ira adopted me when I was about 16.
After high school, I decided to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson because most of my friends were going there. Working my plan, I attended and graduated in four years, May of 1969. Then world events caught up with me!
The Viet Nam war was raging and I was declared IA upon graduation and sent for a draft physical. At the physical I was determined to be 4-A (the new version of 4-F) since a few years earlier I had broken a bone in my right foot by dropping a metal beam on it while sailing in Newport Beach with a friend’s parents. Not realizing it was broken, I never had medical treatment and that caused the break to poorly heal. In fact, it causes me problems to this day! I know the exact day of my physical July 20, 1969 because it was the day of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first landed on the Moon. I remember walking out of the draft board processing building and looking up at the full moon and thinking that someone was looking back for the first time in history. Very cool!
With that rather major and potentially life altering issue out of the way, I proceeded to get married on August 30, 1969 to a girl I had met my sophomore year of college, Marilyn Jean Shafer from Tustin California. Life is filled with moments where paths diverge. We go left or right and life changes forever. As I get older I often wonder if those moments are planned by some unknown power or fate or just random after all. I guess we will never know!
I lived in Tucson for a year following graduation and worked as a bank trainee. I was very unhappy in Tucson and with my job. I researched schools and discovered the American Graduate School of International Management was in my own backyard. I applied and was accepted for the fall 1970 class. I quit my job and Marilyn and I packed a U-Haul and headed to Glendale.
I loved Thunderbird as it was called for short. 50% of the students were from overseas in an era where Arab Sheiks and sons of South American dictators were the myths of movies and not classmates who you shared lunch with! I was living my dream. I stayed two years and earned an advanced degree. Following graduation, I started working with my father at the family business that he owned with Dick Van Dyke (the movie star), the local NBC affiliate KXIV radio.
After the four years at KXIV, I was recruited away to become an account executive at the new Phoenix office of Foote, Cone and Belding, the second largest global advertising agency.
My time in my 20’s and early 30’s was an era of discovery. I discovered I had gotten married too early. Divorce was in the wind, but not without having a child first. Michael James Lavin was born in 1976 to Marilyn and I. I really liked the parental role of dad. By 1980 when I was 33 years of age, I had moved to a one-bedroom apartment at the local Oakwood in Phoenix, filed for divorce and was reaping what I had sown. Healing from a failed marriage takes time and effort. The one constant through it all was work and I threw myself into it with renewed vigor.
In 1981 one of our biggest accounts, the Valley National Bank agreed to shoot a series of commercials that were quite dramatic starting Tom Bosley (the star of Happy Days on television). As fate would have it, it was decided to both edit and produce the music track in Chicago. I flew out a few days early to visit a distant cousin and once again my life changed forever.
When fate reaches in to take control and change your life forever, everything becomes surreal. I recall the plane was two hours late. I recall a storm. I recall it was a cold February evening. I recall fog, a cab, a streetlight, a buzzing lock release at the door and then climbing the stairs to my cousin’s second floor flat on Addison Road next to Wrigley Field. I recall meeting a beautiful friend of my cousin who was staying over since she lived in the suburbs and had an early meeting in the city. And that is how and when I met my soul mate, Carlene Szostak. As I said before, we go left or right on our path and life changes forever. But that is another story!
Six months later, Carlene and I moved to LA together, she from Chicago and me from Phoenix. We had been commuting back and forth, spending obscene sums on phone calls each night and quickly falling in love. Even with love, the adjustment to living with someone again took about six months and then all was well. Yes, it took that long! I had a lot of “baggage” from the divorce from which to recover! Not the least of which was the often uncomfortable relationship between Michael and Carlene, which seemed to resolve in about the same time span.
Culture shock is at times overwhelming; the huge city, the new relationship, Mike adjusting to the move and suddenly finding myself in the spotlight at the new job in LA at Della Femina, Travisano, a famous advertising agency. I settled in, or so I thought.
But again, fate had other plans. The same recruiter who brought me to LA called and asked me to interview for a top-secret job at a company who would not even identify itself for the interview. He asked me to go as a favor to him. I did and following the five-hour interview at a hotel, I returned to my office. I was hardly seated at my desk when he called and asked me point blank, what the “hell” I had said in the interview. The way he said it I thought I had screwed up royally and was about to apologize profusely when he went on to say “they want to hire you now, have asked me to run references, start the contract negotiation and lastly, do not want to see ANY other candidates.
Long story short, the company turned out to be Mattel, the Barbie and Hot Wheels folks. The top-secret invention? We named it Intellivision. I was there for two years, played a key role inventing the billion-dollar video game industry, met Bill Gates, negotiated with Steve Jobs personally and became business friends with the “Woz.” But that too is another story!
After leaving Mattel I joined a large real estate company owned by a billionaire (we met at the NFL Pro-Bowl in Hawaii where I was Carlene’s date) and together (his money, my management) we started five companies, the last of which we sold to GE Capital. I did not enjoy the “GE” culture and decided to leave when my contract was up.
California was very good to Carlene and me. We married in 1984 with friends and family all around us, bought and fixed up a great house a mile from the beach, found fun employment and made good friends. We even had three dogs, Max, Shelby and Snickers, our famous or should I say infamous Chocolate Lab.
However, the best thing that happened in California was the birth of our daughter, Rachael Charlotte Lavin in 1989. A true beneficiary of the diverse California lifestyle, she spoke Spanish before English, took surfing lessons from champion surfers and was personally known at “Good Stuff” our favorite hangout on the beach! Quite a life!
At that point in 1996, Carlene and I had settled into the routine that the “good life” tends to provide. Then our world was turned on its side. I was offered a job by General Motors to start a similar company funded by GMAC. The problem…it was in Horsham, Pennsylvania and we would have to relocate to a suburb of Philadelphia. Once again, fate took a hand and there was a gang shooting in a park in our neighborhood in California. Also, Rachael would have had to go into a private school and Carlene did not like the choices. So we moved literally in two months. Rachael has still not forgiven me!
We purchased a beautiful home in Doylestown, about an hour North of Philadelphia and settled in. H@R Block (Carlene’s employer in California) refused to let Carlene resign because of the move east and she was able to work from the house reporting directly to the CEO in Kansas City. Rachael began to make friends and really enjoyed new her teachers at a very good series of local public schools.
I then retired…that lasted a week! Carlene threatened to divorce me if I did not stop calling her at work, Rachael was in school all day and all my friends had jobs.
A week later I was having lunch with a friend who was at that time the Chairman of a large bank corporation and he asked me to start a new venture for them. I did that for three years; we successfully sold it to a bank headquartered in Spain and I then retired again. This time retirement lasted two weeks. Again, I was bored and miserable.
I decided to get a job as an adjunct Professor and teach graduate school. It was not about the pay; it was for the fun! I found a position within four weeks got certified and have been teaching 4 to 8 classes annually, ever since.
This is where the story gets a bit stranger. I kept getting request for professional advise, so…long story short, I have been consulting ever since.
Right now I am working with one of the largest not-for-profit insurance trusts in DC, a technology company in NJ, and my most interesting client…the State of PA. The state has been investing millions in start-up companies to create jobs. With each investment they assign a board member to protect their investment and help the founders build the company. I have seven and they are all cutting edge technology start-ups. The people are terrific, appreciative and welcoming.
With the children grown, Carlene and I are now looking to the future and the next phase. We plan on moving closer to family and out of the cold. We found a second home in Florida, but that chapter is too soon to be fully written. However, an American Eskimo, Adelaide (Addie) has become my fur-baby and brings pleasure and joy.
So here I am, retired and working 70-hour weeks…loving my life and my “portfolio” career. As Jimmy Buffet (my favorite philosopher) states “I would rather die while I’m living, than live while I’m dead.”
And what of that illusive force that seems to have stepped in at each key part of my life journey? Some might say my life has been a series of random, events, accidents of a sort. I prefer to believe there is no such thing as accident; it is simply fate misnamed.
Thanks for listening to my life…if you are reading this, there is probably a piece of the above story that included you and for that I am truly grateful.
If I am gone and Carlene is sharing this, in lieu of flowers I would love donations to be sent to Eskie Rescues United American Eskimo Dog Rescue at www.eskierescuers.org.
“They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” -Banksy
As long as memories and stories continue to be told all of our “second time” will never occur. I wish you all eternity.