Saturday, November 6, 2010

That Damn Yankee - Jerry Long

Jerry Long
Gerald “Jerry” Harold Long left us on Wednesday November 3, 2010 after spending 82 years on this earth. Although Jerry was all Yankee, with his distinctive New York accent, he spent 37 years here in our Salem of the South. Winston-Salem Journal reporter Richard Craver stated about Jerry in his article of Thursday November 4, 2010

"For those who knew Jerry Long, it was clear that he relished the role of being a “damn Yankee” in North Carolina”.
You might be uncomfortable with the title of this post, I didn’t know Jerry well, but I know enough to know that he would be proud of this title and that he would use very flowery language to explain why he should be so proud. If you aren’t aware of who Jerry is, you are either very young or haven’t been plugged in to the happenings around here.

Jerry was born in Staten Island, New York. He served in the US army before graduating from Adelphi University in New York He married Marieanne M. Brauner in 1954 and they relocated with their six children from Westport, Connecticut to Winston-Salem in 1973. Jerry served many executive roles a various R.J. Reynolds subsidiaries and retired as Chairman of the Board of Reynolds Tobacco Company in 1989. He was a Forsyth County Commissioner for eight years and served on various boards. Following his retirement, he and his family owned and operated L.A. Reynolds Garden Showcase. The West Forsyth YMCA in Clemmons is named the “Jerry Long Family YMCA”.

My involvement with local economic development and projects at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company coincided with Jerry’s time in local management. Therefore our paths crossed now and then. If you imagine an old, short, red cheeked, stark, crusty sailor walking off of a ship you might be close to imagining Jerry. Oh, as to his use of dubious language, the sailor couldn’t possibly keep up. Two incidents stand out in my mind.

In the late 80’s a group of us, attempting to kick local economic development in the butt at a brain storming lunch meeting at The Governors Inn in Research Triangle Park, were bouncing ideas off of each other. Out of this session came Winston-Salem Business, Inc. We were making a list of local influential movers and shakers to contact for their involvement and to match our lump sum up-front contribution of $250,000.00 as proof of ours and their sincerity. Jerry’s name was at the top of that list.

In the later 80’s, following our successful completion of a computer center for Piedmont Airlines in a record time of eleven months, we were approached by R.J. Reynolds about consolidating a center for them here. Directing the first secret meeting of the multitude of designers and contractors necessary to pull this feat off my secretary stuck her head through the door and I told her to go away. She was persistent. I walked out the door and she advised me that Jerry Long was on the phone. Jerry didn’t say much but made it clear that there was a major problem, that we were to pack everything up, send it to him and advise everyone in the room that the deal was dead and that they were to not disclose anything about this meeting. Jerry told me that the reason would be obvious soon. This was our introduction that Ross Johnson had begun the fight to control RJR Nabisco. This was the beginning of the act that would shake the corporate world and the halls of Wall Street as is documented in the book and movie Barbarians at the Gate. Jerry would be involved in the bloody battle to make sense out of and control this pending disaster for our community.
A story, widely believed, made the rounds in Winston-Salem that Johnson had gotten into a fist fight with Jerry Long, the domestic tobacco chief. Long had been defending the interest of Reynolds workers, the story went, and had given Johnson a fat lip. Both men denied it, explaining that the rumor began on a day Johnson cut himself shaving and Long arrived at work in a cast following minor surgery. But it was tough to kill, because everyone in Winston-Salem wanted so badly to believe it. Later, after Long was purged from Reynolds, he ran for the county commission. When he was elected, some political observers gave credit to the lingering story of the Johnson fistfight. – Barbarians at the Gate
Yes, Jerry was a Damn Yankee, but he was our Damn Yankee. We will all miss you Jerry, your scorching tongue, your fists, but most of all your Southern heart. This is how we will remember you supporting us in the R.J.R. Nabisco diabolical and in your commitment to our community!

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