On March 21, my oldest surviving relative, Albert Schwartz, passed away. He was 94.

Albert leaves behind a legacy that is unique and inspiring. As a Jew during World War II, he helped liberate concentration camps while having to hide his religious heritage for fear of being captured and immediately executed.  He also led the fight in 1962 to make El Paso, TX the first desegregated city in a former confederate state.  Needless to say, he was a brave and brash man who took risks.

But there was another side to Albert.  He owned 4 department stores called The Popular Dry Goods with his family in El Paso.  He was the President of the company and, in the words of his surviving niece, “the heart of the store.”

Albert was quite literally loved by his 4,000 employees (his nickname was “Sunshine.”)  In the wake of his death, the prolific outpouring of testimonials from the employees whose lives he affected has been dramatic.  For over 40 years, Albert trained his staff in the “Popular Way,” which basically means going the extra mile to make sure the customer could not receive finer treatment anywhere in the world.

He also gave me my first job, at age 20, selling suits at the Popular.  I learned so much at such a young age, and while I was probably grossly unqualified to be doing what I was doing, he believed in me.  I soon led the department in sales, and I think he was proud of that.

Ultimately, though, I was fired for reasons that were legitimate and just.  I BLEW it; it was one of the worst days of my life.  This man who I respected and owed a great deal to was going to be very disappointed in me.  However, he showed me the same kindness and compassion that he always did with everyone.  It was truly inspiring then, and it still inspires me 22 years later.

Albert Schwartz was, in every sense of the word, a GREAT man. When he left this realm, a unique void was created that will never be filled. I didn’t know him that well, as we drifted apart over the years as he got older and I left Texas for greener pastures. But I, and the rest of El Paso, were blessed to have benefited from his kindness and wisdom.

What is your legacy?  What are you leaving behind when you shut the doors, turn off your computer, and head home?  If it was your last day, what would your co-workers, employees, and customers say about you?

Here is the link to Albert’s obituary: http://forward.com/articles/195148/albert-schwartz-texan-veteran-who-fought-for-civil/?

Rest in peace, Opa.