A Class of His Own
by Dan Malovany
Unlike school, life teaches you experience first and lessons later. That’s probably where the phrase “school of hard knocks” comes from.
Fortunately, I avoided a lot of life’s punches because I met Ray Lahvic 17 years ago. At that time, Ray was 65 years old. While many of his peers were heading into retirement, he was just beginning yet another phase of his life at Bakery Production & Marketing magazine.
As editor, Ray taught me the ropes of the baking industry and his words of wisdom kept me out of trouble, at least most of the time. He always joked that his street smarts came from hanging around the industry for too long. Eventually, he noted, life knocked some sense into him.
Actually, Ray was a natural when it came to reporting. Besides knowing everyone who’s anyone in the baking industry, he had an unquenchable thirst for knowing everyone else’s business.
Prior to joining the magazine, Ray had been a source for Bakery Production and Marketing Newsletter, unofficially known as The Orange Sheet.
In the early 1990s, Ray officially became in charge of it. Eventually he donned the title of editor emeritus upon himself. Adding the word “emeritus” meant he didn’t have to come to work on Monday and Tuesday, if he didn’t feel like it. It didn’t matter. Even before e-mail and the Internet, it only took him a day or two of banging the phone to find out who’d been naughty or nice in the industry. Just in case, Ray tapped me to be his eyes and ears on the wholesale baking industry when he was off working on his latest pet project.
As a veteran of the industry, Ray gave The Orange Sheet even greater legitimacy and access to dozens of executives who normally didn’t like talking to the press. On the road, I was always amazed how Ray and his wife Evelyn worked the floor at cocktail receptions gracefully greeting old friends and exchanging gossip like a couple doing the waltz.
He was a firm believer in arriving early to a convention’s opening reception because, as he often noted, “that’s when people are most sober and most likely to remember that they met you at the show.” Likewise, he liked to stay to the bitter end because “that’s when they’re most likely to say something they wish they hadn’t.”
As I tagged alongside Ray and Evelyn, he introduced me to literally hundreds of bakers and industry suppliers. It was an invaluable experience. Afterward, he would kindly say, “Now that you met them, whatever you do, don’t screw it up and make a fool out of me.”
Often he would fish for stories by tossing out a rumor or some dang hunch of his, and by reading their body language, he would know if he were onto something. If he got a juicy story, he would often sit on it until he felt the time was right to make it known. Many times, knowing that he was told something in confidence, he made sure that the stories never got into print. He recognized when to hold them and when to fold them. As he reminded me all too often, the best way to earn people’s trust is to keep your dang mouth shut.
Perhaps Ray’s most refreshing gift was his ability to call it as he saw it. He had a knack of seeing which kings had no clothes. His often hilarious “industry observations” were usually right on the button. At times, he would catch himself repeating something too close to the truth, then stop and say, “Did I just say that?” And we would all laugh.
When working in the baking industry, Ray told us his cardinal rule was to always treat people with respect, whether they deserved it or not. If you show people respect, he said, sooner or later they may respect you, if you’re damned lucky.
Ray Lahvic passed away on June 26. He was 82. Class dismissed.