A reluctant, but yet, grateful, 2012 honoree
By Renee Carey
Published in News on June 6, 2012 1:46 PM
George Jeffreys poses with his son-in-law, and emcee for the evening, Will Bland, by his portrait painted in honor of his receipt of the 2012 Distinguished Citizen Award from the Tuscarora Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
Anne Jeffreys talks to her cousin James Jeffreys during the Boy Scouts Distinguished Citizen Award celebration honoring their cousin, George Jeffreys.
It surprised no one that the Tuscarora Council of the Boy Scouts of America's 2012 Distinguished Citizen's acceptance speech was a quiet, and humble, "thank you."
And the nearly 300 people in attendance Tuesday to honor him laughed knowingly when they heard George Jeffreys' longtime friend, local attorney Lindsay Warren Jr., tell the story of how he, local businessman Louis Maxwell and 2011 honoree Tom Yarboro broke the news to the reluctant nominee that he had been chosen for the council's highest honor.
At least, they thought they were breaking the news.
"He already knew about it," Warren said. "We spent the next 45 minutes listening to George, and it was very negative. It looked pretty dismal."
Maxwell and Warren decided to make one last argument each -- and then, success.
"Thirty seconds later, he accepted," Warren said.
A parade of friends and family, announced by the master of ceremonies, Jeffreys' son-in-law Will Bland, told their stories about the longtime businessman and philanthropist -- all of them centering around hard work, generosity and humility -- and a determined desire to stay out of the spotlight.
Those assigned to pay tribute to George Jeffreys spoke of a man whose idea of being a boss was to join in the work. They shared anecdotes of those who thought that the man in the Budweiser shirt with the name "George" embroidered on the left front could not possibly be one of the top beer distributors for Anheuser-Busch in the country -- or the person making the decisions for a company that has grown from a humble start into a very successful, multifaceted enterprise.
When Mary Bickers first met George Jeffreys, she was a young business consultant meeting her very first client.
That was 30 years ago.
"When I met George, he was washing his building," she said.
She asked to speak with the boss and then got what most people said was Jeffreys' traditional response: "What do you want with him?"
And so began a relationship that has lasted for decades, and has taught her much about how to run a business and a life, Ms. Bickers said.
And now, she is working with the next generation -- Jeffreys' children Leigh, Robert and Ellen -- as they continue their father's legacy and reflect the values of integrity and family that they learned at his feet and under the guidance of their mother, Lucy, Jeffreys' wife of nearly 50 years.
Family was -- and is -- very important to her father, said Ellen Jeffreys Bland, who spoke of a simple, fun childhood and watching a man who knew how to work and to work hard.
She even showed off the famous shirt that her dad wore when he was on the floor doing whatever job needed to be done.
He did not play around -- in his business or in his life, which he has lived to the fullest, his daughter said.
"He is never a seat-filler in life," she said.
She, like others, watched her father deal with those who were surprised that the owner of a distributorship would be on the sweeper or doing any of the other work necessary at the warehouse.
And that is a lesson, she said, that she has taken with her as well.
For Leigh Jeffreys Fanning, there were other stories to tell, not just of the astute businessman, but of a man whose family was as important to him as the businesses he nurtured.
"We had the best dad," she said. "We never knew what was going to happen."
She told stories of trips to the warehouse where she and her siblings would "work" with their father as well as morning family breakfasts.
"Cheers to you, Daddy," she said, a catch in her voice.
There were other tributes, too, and countless accounts of generosity behind the scenes, a sign of a man who understood not only how to achieve in business, but also how important it was to remember where he came from.
Those who honored him said Jeffreys' philanthropy was quiet, done without fanfare, and designed to help everyone from a friend facing a hard time to an organization helping thousands.
And there was a surprise, too, a special visit from Jeffreys' cousin, Hollywood actress Anne Jeffreys, who grew up alongside the honoree -- and decided to surprise him with a visit to his ceremony.
"I did not tell him I was coming," she said. "I told him I would try to come."
But even as she said that, Miss Jeffreys said, in the back of her mind, she was thinking that she "wouldn't miss it for the world." So she hopped on a plane with one of her sons and made the cross-country trip.
Miss Jeffreys spoke of her cousin's kindness and his sense of humor.
"I've saved all your letters, so look out," she said.
But, like those gathered to honor Jeffreys, Miss Jeffreys acknowledged the hard work and the good values that have made George Jeffreys the man he is.
"You have done so much for so many people," she said.
She even made a quip about the Jeffreys family's long association with Anheuser-Busch, which stretches back decades.
"When I was younger," she said. "I thought the 'A' with the eagle flying through it was our family crest."
But in the end, she said, it was hard work and integrity that earned her cousin the honor bestowed upon him by the Boy Scouts.
"He was a shy one, but he got things done," she told the crowd.