Legacies

The jewelry industry lost one of its great pioneers this summer with the passing of Richard T. Liddicoat. The father of modern gemology, Liddicoat left as his biggest legacy the GIA grading system, acknowledged as the world’s foremost method for identifying and valuing gems. But he also left another legacy that had an equally far-reaching impact: the influence of his personality on all who knew him.

A modest, self-effacing man, Liddicoat was every inch a true gentleman. His name will be central in the history books for developing the GIA grading scale, but his presence in the industry will be carried on through the actions and behavior of those who worked with him. Despite his great accomplishment, he never set himself up as greater than anyone else in the industry. When I met him in the mid 1980s, I was a junior editor at JCK. I could barely tell a tsavorite from a tourmaline, but he was as gracious to me as he was to any industry bigwig.

A few days after Liddicoat’s death, I learned that my college roommate also had passed away that week—suddenly, tragically, and much too young. Although we hadn’t been in close contact for some years, another friend put his finger on how we felt. He said, “There’s a big difference between ‘not a part of your life anymore,’ and ‘gone.’ “

I started thinking about legacies, and whether one has to die to leave one. The American Heritage Dictionary defines legacy as “money bequeathed” or “something handed down from an ancestor or predecessor in the past.” But whether you call them lessons, inspirations, or living legacies, we all have an opportunity to learn from examples set by family, friends, bosses, colleagues, or even the corner greengrocer, and to set examples ourselves.

Often, it’s the small stuff that sticks with you. Robin, my late roommate, used to tape notes to the mirror to make sure she didn’t forget anything. “Dumb Dora” notes, she called them, laughing that the mirror was one place two fashion-conscious girls would be sure to see them. To this day, when-ever I need to remember something, I tape a big note to the bathroom mirror. She also taught me about the restorative powers of a 20-minute catnap before going out for the evening—a trick that’s helped me through innumerable long days of trade shows and industry dinners. I’m sure she helped many people in her career as an attorney, but her influences on my life came from the habits and laughs we shared along with a dorm room.

What will be your legacy? Will your fellow townspeople say, “Didn’t there used to be a jewelry store there?” or “He (or she) was our family jeweler, a great citizen, and a wonderful friend?” Will your employees think of you as someone they used to work for or as someone who inspired, encouraged, and influenced their lives and careers? Will your vendors remember you as a consummate professional or as someone who never paid a bill on time? Will your children think of you as a positive role model for balancing family and business or think that you sacrificed the family for the business?

Don Polec, a local humorist, has observed that you’re born, you live your life, you die, and after your funeral your friends go to your house to eat potato salad and talk about you. His delivery was funny, but his message was serious: It’s what you do between here and the potato salad—the journey, not the destination—that determines what friends, colleagues, and history will remember about you.

It’s not about the jewelry. It’s about the people who make the jewelry, sell the jewelry, grade the jewelry, and wear the jewelry.

hschupak@reedbusiness.com