Howes: Mike Fezzey connected people, power and purpose
His son slid the rumpled newsletter across the table, hoping to make a point.
"It's Everybody's Problem," blared the headline on a piece written in December 1967 by Robert W. Fezzey, a Michigan Bell PR man on loan to New Detroit. Wounds of that summer's riots remained raw, forming scars that would take decades to heal. If they ever will.
He described "reverberations everywhere, even in suburbia." He pointed to problems that "cried out for immediate attention," a sense in "the larger community that something — probably many things — needed to be done, right here, right now."
I couldn't help but remember my column on that newsletter as I sat in Woodside Bible Church in Troy with hundreds of others Thursday to say goodbye to Mike Fezzey, 57. Nor could I miss the uncanny resemblance of the father's message to the son's own mission, a guy whose legacy rests in the lives he touched and the optimism he exuded.
He was the regional president of Huntington Bank, a new challenge he was offered because of his deep commitment to a community he loved. Before that, he was the longtime general manager of WJR-760, a job he leveraged to effectively live at the nexus of business and labor, politics and sports, culture and non-profits across the state.
A perch like that made Fezzey omnipresent in the business-and-politics power crowd, with networking rites and back-channel scuttlebutt all its own. He had CEOs and university presidents on speed dial; politicians of the right and the left understood the value of a relationship with him, especially during his days at WJR.
"That's what Mike did," Pastor Doug Schmidt says. "He connected people."
But such heady access didn't keep him from routinely taking the time to say hello, to ask how you're doing, to thank you for something, however small it might be. Implicit in it all — humility rooted in his deep faith and a connection to his family.
He understood what too many arguably overlook, often until it's too late. Success in business, and life, depends on forging relationships and nurturing them; that connections should be built with the powerful and the unknown in equal measure; that a life is defined by more than the status conferred by a business card.
"Absolutely loved what he was doing," says Sue Brueckman, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Huntington. "It was not a job — it was a mission. He was going to save Michigan."
And showcase it at its best, personally. In his later years at WJR, Fezzey pioneered a series of short broadcasts called the "Best in Business" that the station featured on Paul W. Smith's morning show. When he left for his Huntington gig, the pieces were rebranded with the bank because they worked.
They were vintage Fezzey, I came to learn. Here were inspirational stories about often anonymous entrepreneurs doing good in a Michigan gutting through the trials of recession, the difficulties of restructuring, the ignominy of auto and municipal bankruptcies. And prospering.
"He showed great concern for people," Smith says. The Dearborn Democrat "Debbie Dingell has said to me 100 times that when John was in the hospital, he called everyday. He was very, very good at that."
You could tell, in part, by those who came to pay their final respects: family, friends and members of Woodside; Dingell and Gov. Rick Snyder; Republicans and Democrats; prominent CEOs and former United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger, who drove up from Kentucky because he "wouldn't miss it"; TV anchors, WJR personalities and their producers.
Their presence, and that of so many others, is less a sign of Fezzey's stature than a marker of the lives he touched, from the powerful and influential to the people he met at church or the guitar player who describes him as more a father than his own.
That column about Fezzey's dad, I learned later in the day from The Detroit News archives, ran on April 2, 2007, exactly eight years before the day family and friends, congregation and business associates, would attend the funeral of a man taken too young.
Way too young. RIP.
Daniel Howes' column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and can be found at http://detroitnews.com/staff/27151