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Lunch with Mr. Conn
By Coach B

Kirby Conn was the first non-professional comedian to receive the Shrine's top clown award, and this event was in all the major newspapers in the mid-60s. I had lunch with him twice, once as a boy of about ten in the late forties, and once again in 1981.

Mr. Conn was the owner of a successful retail furniture business and the fact that he liked people had much to do with his prosperity.

When I was a boy, the homes of the wealthy, the poor, and all in between often occupied the same street. Mr. Conn owned a big fine house in the midst of the modest white frame homes that made up most of our neighborhood. He was a mildly rotund man and was almost always dressed in a white shirt and necktie. When you spoke to him he would look at you with intense anticipation as if you were about to say something of great importance.

Mr. Conn was always doing something to boost someone's enjoyment of life. My first lunch with him was a time he collected three or four of us neighborhood kids, plus his own young son, and drove us in his big Buick to a top downtown eatery in Beaumont. We really felt like big stuff arrayed around a huge table in our jeans and short-sleeved cotton shirts in the midst of some members of Beaumont's business community. All of the employees of the establishment treated us royally and I suspect that Mr. Conn had been there before and had tipped them generously.

As an adult, I wound up in Fort Worth owning a computer software firm, and every time I visited my folks in Orange my dad would tell me that Mr. Conn had asked about me.

Some years back, when I was firmly into middle-age, I received a contract to write some software in Orange. While there I

wanted to visit Mr. Conn and take him to lunch. When I told my mother of my plan, she said, "Oh, he’ll love that so. However, he’ll also pay for lunch. You can’t buy Kirby Conn’s lunch in Orange County." However, having some commercial check grabbing experience I thought I could pull it off. The achievement of buying Mr. Conn’s lunch was not my primary desire, though, I just wanted to visit him again. He was to die just a few years afterward.

The day after the conversation with my mother, I phoned Mr. Conn and he said he would pick me up at the office building where I was working. At noon he drove up in a luxurious Cadillac - he’d promoted himself up from Buicks by that time. He walked in through the front door and, not knowing exactly where I was located, hollered "TRAVIS!" down the hallway in a commanding voice. I dropped what I was doing, went out to meet him and he drove us to a nice hotel restaurant out on the interstate.

Over food we discussed some lows and highs in our lives. He seemed to most enjoy talking about the good times he'd had with his dad. When it was time to leave, I got up and walked straight to the cashier, bypassing the waitress because I was certain she had orders from Mr. Conn regarding the check. At the cashier’s stand, I told the lady that I insisted on paying the tab, but she just gave me an amused smile and said, "It’s taken care of." Mr. Conn by that time was waiting for me at the front entrance.

Well, being victorious at check grabbing that day or not, it turned out ok for me. Now, whenever I spring for someone’s lunch, and whenever someone stands for mine, I think a moment about Kirby Conn and enjoy a private smile.

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