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VOL. 129 | NO. 81 | Friday, April 25, 2014

Dan Conaway

Dan Conaway

Going South

By Dan Conaway

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JACKSON. FULL CIRCLE. Fifteen years ago, I sat across a table from a guy named Tommy Ramey in a place called Nick’s in Jackson, Mississippi. Tommy said he wanted to buy my ad agency and took a swallow of some very good Cab. I took a swallow of mine and told him what that would take. We both took another swallow, he said that sounded about right, and we shook hands. And ordered another bottle.

Tommy had the fastest-growing agency in Mississippi, 60 people, with the Viking business when Viking was red hot, and the friendship of just about everybody he ever met – including mine just one bright smile past our first handshake. We were the fastest-growing agency in Memphis, 60 people, with all of Smith & Nephew’s knees, hips and nails, every animal in the Memphis Zoo, and a cool building to hold all the awards.

This marriage between Jackson and Memphis couldn’t fail.

A couple of months later, just as we were about to take our vows, Tommy died suddenly at 41, leaving the future of The Ramey Agency in doubt. A couple of years later, my bookkeeper cooked our books to a crispy million-plus of unpaid payroll taxes, and Conaway Brown was done.

Fifteen minutes ago, I got an email from our son, Gaines.

“I visited my old friend Matt, who is now GM of a terrific restaurant in Jackson called Nick’s. After a rib-eye with garlic butter that’ll bring a tear to your eye, several pints of some local brew and the usual life catch-up conversation, a white-haired man came in and sat down next to us at the bar to catch the tail end of the Grizz/Mavs game. Matt, always shaking hands and kissing babies as part of his job, struck up a conversation and they talked about the Delta, the history of Nick’s, and the man’s teaching position with Belhaven University in art history.

“He mentioned something about working on an art exhibit in Memphis years ago. I asked him if it had anything to do with Wonders, and he said yes. I said, well then, you might know my dad, Dan Conaway, which led to: ‘Dan?! Oh sure, I know Dan. We worked together on a couple of exhibits. Tell him Jack Kyle said hi.’

“So … an art historian and a marketing guy walk into a bar in Mississippi ...”

Hi right back, Jack, former Wonders communications director, and hello again, Nick’s and Jackson.

Gaines has just taken a great corporate marketing job in Jackson and he’s taking his beautiful wife and our beautiful grandchildren with him. Just as I was having ugly thoughts about that, along comes another of those small-world Southern stories to remind me of just how close we are.

In return email, I told him about my own history at Nick’s.

“Dad,” he said back, “The Ramey Agency has our account.”

Looks like we might have put something together after all, Tommy.

I’m a Memphian, and I have people in Jackson.

Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at dan@wakesomebodyup.com.

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