Bob Higgins, RIP

Mr. Higgins was the guy running NECA when I hired on there in 1979. He was an impressive guy, a strong leader.

You can see an obit (which, to my knowledge, is accurate — which is incredible, considering what it says about the guy) — here.

. . . to which I have to add 2 personal observations:

1. In 1980, the MGM Grand (in Vegas) burned. People never harmed by the fire died on the building’s upper floors — from inhalation of the toxic products of combustion. It’s a long story (I wrote 6 pages on this for Electrical Contractor magazine later that year, on the controversy over use of plastic conduit, and connections to that fire).

For our purposes here, what’s relevant is that people learned you could die in a fire — at least, in a high-rise building — even if the flames never touched you or the floor on which you were located.

Mr. Higgins, a few months later, bought an oxygen tank and a breathing apparatus for every employee of NECA (we worked on the 13th floor of a 13-floor building). His thinking, as I remember hearing: In a fire, we on the top floor were going to be the last people to get out, as the occupants of lower floors flowed into the emergency escape stairwell.

Well, by God, Higgins was going to keep his people alive. For several years — I worked at NECA until late 1983 — I had that “scuba gear” stowed under some furniture. Importantly — so did everyone else who worked for NECA.

Bottom line: The guy took the association’s money and invested it in the survival of all of the employees — putting down cash now against a very unlikely event.

Is this funny? Actually, it’s touching.

2. I hired on with NECA in May 1979. In October 1978, I had ran (and finished) the New York Marathon. By May, I was no longer in stupendous shape — not running 10 to 12 miles per day¬† — but I was still running, and in about the best shape of my life.

And: I was 25. I had a lot of hair, and 99.5% of it was black!

And: There was perhaps some knowledge on the 13th floor of that building that I liked women, and dated a lot of them. This is not a boast, it was a fact — and perhaps helps explain a bit of what follows.

In September 1979 — a few weeks before the NECA Show — I was called into Mr. Higgins’ office. I’d only been there once before (just before I was hired — the guy looked me over). Most people were not summoned into his office. As it turned out, I never was to appear in his office again.

I was a bit nervous. People were not normally called into his office. What the heck had I done?

As it turned out, it was a very brief meeting. He had two specific instructions to impart to me:

A. “You don’t have to tell everyone everything you know.” In other words: Keep your trap shut. I’m really not sure what brought that on. For one thing, I honestly did not know all that much (about NECA) at the time — I had 15 to 35 questions for every fact that I knew.

B. “Do not dance with the contractors’ wives.” This seemed like good advice then and, all the way up to today, good advice for an association staffer at a national convention . . . do not do something social with a member’s wife (or husband). I imagined at the time that Mr. Higgins thought — as maybe he’d heard that I had been seen, in just a few months, with a variety of women/dates — that I was a sexual dynamo.

Looking back on it today, I think Mr. Higgins took the 2 minutes to talk to me to make sure he didn’t have a loose cannon on board his staff as he went to the annual convention.

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