There are some people you never forget. Charlie “Tremendous” Jones is one of them. Understandably, his name usually precedes him. Who would have the nerve to call themselves “Tremendous?” I first heard about him in Springfield, Missouri where I was enrolled in college and working at night as the manager of the shoe department at Shopper’s Fair.
Weeks after Charlie’s visit to town, real estate agents and insurance salesman were chortling over his “motivational speech.” A few years later, when I was invited to attend one of his sessions at a nearby Holiday Inn, I decided to go.
Now, understand. I am not into listening to speeches. I give speeches for a living so sitting through one is too much like work. Years later, I sat in my office in the White House when I could have been outside listening to heads of state talk to audiences on the South Lawn. As a motivational speaker, I must have shared the stage with Zig Ziglar fifty times and never heard him once. So, I am not big into listening to speeches of any kind. But Charlie “Tremendous” Jones? I just had to witness such hubris for myself.
Like thousands before me, I was blown away. He had given his material so often that it was loaded. There was double, triple, quadruple entendre. Maybe more. I was in my twenties at the time and as a young man I probably missed a lot. He was not only funny, iconoclastic, ironic and outrageous; he was also corny and deeply sarcastic. You had to be on your toes to grasp it all. An hour passed like five minutes.
I especially enjoyed the violence of his sarcasm. Even today when I hear a professor or preacher sanctimoniously inveigh against the evils of sarcasm I remember Charlie, who along with Gandhi, and Churchill loved to make a point by be being sarcastic. (Even Jesus was sarcastic, unless you believe that the Samaritan woman really was a dog.)
Now, this was the 1970’s. Early in his speech he passed out wooden half dollars with the words “2 it” on them. Everyone in the audience had one of the puzzling wooden coins. And near the end, when he was rattling off all the reasons why we should do the things we should do he invoked that time honored mantra of procrastination. “Well, I will when I get around to it.”
“Take out your coin,” Charlie roared, “And look at it. Your excuses are over! You already have a round ‘2 it.’ Now, get it done.”
As life would have it, many years later I ended up sharing the stage with Charlie on many occasions. We once flew first class to Australia together where we were the show for a corporate weekend gig. We were last together at a Mark Victor Hansen’s Mega Speaker’s Program in Los Angeles. And over the years I saw him morph from the nation’s preeminent motivational speaker into a book salesman and publisher and something even more, something new, a book statesman.
His mantra…. “You will be tomorrow what you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read,” will be declared on stages for generations to come. And every time it is said he will be remembered.
Today, I am told that Charlie is in hospice care. In fact you can write him yourself at firstname.lastname@example.org . He has been dying for more than a decade now but like Generalissimo Franco, he just keeps going.
It is hard to imagine the world without Charlie. I suspect it will be something like the world without Frank Sinatra. Every time I walk into an Italian restaurant these days they are playing Sinatra. His voice is everywhere, far more prolific than it ever was when he was living. I suspect that it will be the same with Charlie. His lists of favorite books will sell more than ever and we will all wonder at the things that provoked and amused and inspired him, as if he were reading over our shoulder.
I think back now on my first Charlie Jones experience, sitting in the audience at that Holiday Inn in Springfield, Missouri. And I remember that the first row was as dangerous as the first row at a later Gallagher performance. And not just with flying spit. Charlie knocked people around. No one before or since could simultaneously wear a bow tie and scare grown men.
At six feet four or taller, outrageous and verbose, bristling with bravado and brilliant sarcasm, he could intimidate any audience he faced. And when I saw him that first time I left thinking to myself that this man, wherever he got his name, self anointed or not, is truly “tremendous.”
I still have his book. “Life is Tremendous,” It declares. And so it will always be for Charlie Jones and all of us who have been lucky enough to know him.
Go to the angels, Charlie. You are loved and will never be forgotten. And make life in heaven just as tremendous as you have made it here.
Postscript: 10-16-08. This note to me from the family. “At 4 pm, October 16, 2008, Charles Edward ‘Tremendous’ Jones triumphantly entered the gates of Heaven. With family at his side, we could only imagine the joy that he experienced and who he greeted first!”