GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - "Customers don't need us, we need them."
That is the motto upon which Fred Meijer built his business, and speaks to how he viewed people and to his focus on doing for others.
One of the eulogists at the memorial service was Earl Holton, who for 18 years was the president of the company Fred built.
"He was such a humble man," Holton told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday. "He would stand back and say, this is a lot to-do about nothing. I think (the outpouring over his death) would overwhelm him."
He spoke of Meijer's endless curiosity and interest in people, the same people who paid their respects this week. Holton noted the buildings Meijer helped provide, the trails, the Meijer Gardens and the grocery stores. But in his mind, Fred Meijer's legacy is summed up in one word.
"People. Fred had an uncommon interest in all people."
He began working at Meijer in the 1950s as a clerk, and worked his way into the executive suite. He retired as company president in 1998.
"Fred was a mentor, a best friend and always a cheerleader. We had a close bond."
They had a standing lunch date every Monday as part of the 12-member "Improvement Association," a group of local business leaders and educators who would meet to talk about current events and swap stories.
Recently, he said, Fred was talking about the economic downturn, how it was affecting people and how he wanted the company to extend advertised discounts.
"He would identify with the fact that anytime you have a downturn, you have a lot of people suffering economically. He's been there. He knows what it's like. He has an empathy for those people."
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