Monday, October 31, 2016

Missing Phil Cannon

Posted By on Mon, Oct 31, 2016 at 9:28 AM

Phil Cannon
  • Phil Cannon

I miss Phil Cannon. The longtime director of the FedEx St. Jude Classic died last Wednesday after a courageous two-year battle with lung cancer. I last saw Phil and his lovely wife at the Liberty Bowl before the Temple game on October 6th. However sick he may have felt, he didn’t show it. Never did. Like every other time I crossed Phil’s path, he brightened my mood. I wish I’d taken more time to visit with him that evening.

Consider the impact Phil made on this entire region over his four decades in support of our annual PGA event. (Memphis was “big league” long before the Grizzlies arrived.) The city’s two most powerful, wide-reaching brands — FedEx and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — are in the very title of the golf tournament. There was a four-year period (2007-2010) when FedEx was not the title sponsor, and those were rough years for Phil and his staff. But he lured the Fortune 500 titan back into the mix, all the while coordinating an army of volunteers that numbered upwards of 1,800, the faces and voices (“Hush y’all!”) that make the FESJC so distinctly ours. Phil could impact a boardroom packed with CEOs the same way he could an assembled group of groundskeepers, scoreboard operators, and concession vendors.

Phil was the primary source for the first feature I wrote for Memphis magazine, a broad look at the FESJC in June 1994. He treated me like I was reporting for Esquire. Twenty-one years later, I sat down with him to absorb some wisdom for Inside Memphis Business. Among the nuggets he shared: “If you’re going to need 150 carts on Wednesday but only 100 on Friday, go ahead and get the 150.” Perfectly Phil Cannon. Whether it’s transportation, catering, or restrooms, err on the side of making your customers comfortable.

The world can’t replace the Phil Cannons among us. But the kindness, decency, professionalism, humor, and courage that Phil personified live on mightily among those of us who called him a friend. And that’s a slice of immortality.

• Cancer is a monster that takes many hideous forms. Phil Cannon was in my thoughts when my family and I approached the starting line at Saturday’s Race for the Cure downtown. If there’s a more uplifting event in Memphis, I’ve yet to attend it. The annual 5K serves as a coming-out party — that’s what it is, a party — to celebrate the women (and men) we’ve lost to breast cancer, and the thousands around the world beating the insidious disease every day.

If breast cancer hasn’t impacted you personally, it surely has indirectly. (My mom and sister are breast cancer survivors.) I start the Race for the Cure each year with a lump in my throat, reading the tags runners and walkers wear to salute a loved one they’ve lost, or one currently fighting for her life. And the route makes the event so distinctly Memphis: Start in front of the Peabody, then along the river, down South Main, around the National Civil Rights Museum and FedExForum, back along Beale Street, with a finish at AutoZone Park. Whether you’re burning your lungs over the final mile, or walking hand-in-hand with a family member, you can actually feel compassion winning (to say nothing of the extensive research saving lives every day). If you were there Saturday, thank you. If not, consider marking your calendar for next October.

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