Eugene Kates died yesterday. I knew him for more than thirty years, and he was a giant.
Eugene helped invent the idea of summer camp in North America. He stood up to the government, to rangers, to staff and even to his customers, the parents. He had a clear view of the way he wanted the world to be, and he stuck with it, regardless of what the world thought.
In an age of ‘the customer is king’, Eugene was an anachronism. He never said things to make people happy, didn’t sugar coat his point of view and he didn’t compromise.
He once made my parents sit on a mosquito-infested dock for an hour because they had the temerity to come visit without buying lunch at his hotel. And he fired employees (any employee) who put their own needs before safety or the environment. There was one way, and it was his way.
In an age where few people stand for anything, Eugene stood for something. He wasn’t afraid to tell you what he thought, and it didn’t take long to guess what he expected.
I often encourage you to be like this person or be like that person. I’m not sure anyone could be like Eugene, or even want to be. It’s a hard road to be that authentic, that driven, that certain. For fifty years, he made things happen. He didn’t sell every slot, didn’t make every possible fan, but he made things happen.
For a lot of people, it was easy not to like him. For everyone, it was impossible not to respect him.
I miss him already.