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Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Jim Collins: A driving force, Jim Brown leaves behind a lasting legacy in Lake County

From the day he set foot in Lake County to establish his first car agency here, it was apparent that Jim Brown would become a giant in the business community.
His direct approach to getting rezoning for what was to become his sprawling auto empire on Center Street at Tyler Boulevard in Mentor demonstrated that he was a no nonsense and determined man to deal with.
And as the campus grew and grew, it became even more evident that he was a towering figure, not only in the business area but in every other facet of life as well.
Whether in the fields of community service, education or any other aspect of life, he was a towering figure who always knew what was best, what others cared about and how to get there without getting sidetracked.
Why else would a car dealer become so involved in ensuring the future of Lost Nation Airport in Willoughby if he did not consider it such a vital ingredient in the area’s future?
Shortly after he established Classic Chevrolet/BMW he was recognized, in 1988, as the Mentor Chamber of Commerce Business of the year. It was not the last honor he was to receive from the chamber.
I remember that first awards ceremony well. Jim’s acceptance speech was as good as I have heard in sitting through such programs for the past 65 years.
And on the subject of speeches, he gave one at a Lake Erie College commencement that gave an insight into why he was such an enormous success in business.
He merely worked harder than anyone else.
I was there, on the back lawn of the college, to see my granddaughter Destiny receive her bachelor’s degree. Jim was the commencement speaker.
Anyone who listened would have learned some of the main factors that led to his success.
When he began as a car salesman, he said, he arrived at work before anyone else. When the others left for lunch, he remained behind — to sell cars. And when the others left for the day, he stayed behind — to sell more cars.
He was straight forward and direct. And determined. And he also had a sense of humor. Jim was a business graduate of Kent State University, and was the keynote speaker at the Lake County chapter’s annual dinner a few years ago at Hellriegel’s. I have been at every one of the dinners, and Jim’s talk was the best ever.
Funny. Touching. Insightful. To the point. And in many ways poignant.
Over the years, I have conducted 15 hour-long TV interviews with Lake County business leaders at the Mooreland Mansion on the Lakeland Community College campus.
I did one with the Harry Allen family of Great Lakes Power Products, and Jim Brown was in the back of the room, doing a little good-natured heckling of his good buddy.
I asked Jim to do one of the interviews, and he always said, “I’ll get back to you.”
Every time I saw him, I reminded him. He always said he would get back.
One evening, a few years ago, I was having dinner at Gavi’s Restaurant with the lady of the house and Jim and his wife, Darlene, walked past.
I said, ”Jim, have you decided yet on doing that TV interview?”
“I told you, Collins (he always called me by my last name) that I would get back to you,” he responded.
Then he called the server over. “Give them a bottle of wine, any kind they want,” he said, motioning toward us.
That was Jim Brown all right — direct, always in command and generous to a fault.
I had told him several times we wanted two Chrysler Sebring convertibles — used, because we couldn’t afford new ones, low mileage and very reasonably priced.
We were with him one day at a Lake County Captains baseball game at Classic Park, so named because of Jim’s generosity in buying naming rights. I reminded him about the convertibles. He whipped out his cell phone and made a call.
“I’ve got six in Streetsboro,” he said. “Four are white and two are silver.”
“We’ll take one white one and one silver one,” we told him while he was still on the phone.
Done. Within two days, we had both of the cars. The lady of the house decided she didn’t like convertibles and drove it for only a year.
I drove the silver one for several years, and my daughter Diane is now driving it, very proudly. She takes great care of it. It is immaculate and looks as if it will last forever.
Jim told me they had been rental cars in Hawaii, accounting for their superb condition.
I tell you this story to illustrate what kind of a guy Jim Brown was.
The word “unique” describes him perfectly, because he was truly one of a kind.
His death was a great loss, not only to Lake County but to the entire area of Northeast Ohio.
Never again will I hear that familiar shout, “Collins,” and know that it was the legendary Jim Brown, seeking to get my attention.



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