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  • John Walker

Remembering Arthur Lasky

Arthur Lasky died recently. He was a father, husband, business owner, and actor. He was many other things, too. But for me, he was one of my favorite clients. He founded and owned HearthCabinet Ventless Fireplaces and I worked with him for the last two years. I’m saddened by his death and want to share some of my memories of him.

My interactions with Arthur were comprised mostly of long conversations about business that were interwoven with stories that he told to illustrate his points.

“Have you heard about the o-rings in the ice water?” He’d ask. Then he’d tell the story of the NASA engineer investigating the Challenger disaster who explained a principle of scientific uncertainty revealed by a simple experiment involving a glass of ice water and one of the Challenger’s o-rings. It was a simple story that made a complicated point.

His next story might be about growing up in Brooklyn, or about his time at Harvard or his favorite stationery shop near the Columbia campus where he’d go to buy drafting supplies for architecture school. But eventually, he’d come back around to the point he was making about some truism of business. And he had a fine sense of how business worked- everything from the subtleties of negotiations with vendors to the best way to treat a customer who was considering buying one of his ventless fireplaces.

The ventless fireplace business will be one of Arthur’s legacies. He built an excellent business designing and selling fireplaces that could be installed in New York City apartments, or almost anywhere. Being the savvy entrepreneur that he was, the designs are gorgeous, but they are approved for use in New York by the municipal fire department- no easy feat of perseverance and politicking I’m sure!

In Arthur’s stories, I heard the sound of many voices- a boy on a Brooklyn playground, a seasoned business person shaped by mentors in the jewelry business, an academic lecturer at Columbia. Sometimes his voice thickened and he’d do a funny imitation of someone. But he always seemed to act on firm principles and he tried to treat people fairly and with kindness.

The first time I met Arthur, he had surprised me with a call saying he was coming into New York and could we meet. He’d be driving so was there a place near me that also had parking. We ended up sitting on the patio of a restaurant in Inwood and talking for about three hours. Like many of our conversations, the central topic was business but we wandered all over the place and covered art and music and literature and travel and politics and much else.

During that first meeting with Arthur, I lost track of time, I forgot he was a client (and that it was a business meeting) and we had the kind of conversation I used to have with my college roommate- deep, wide-ranging, funny and totally engrossing. And later that evening, in reference to something we’d talked about, he texted me a quote from the poet Shelley.

It’s with sadness, but also with my tongue in cheek, that I end my remembrance with this other quote from Shelley, one I think Arthur would appreciate:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings

Look on my work, ye Mighty and despair!”

Nothing besides remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Arthur, I’ll miss our conversations very much.

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