One Quiet Truck

August 30th, 2012

We’ve all heard the cliché “lead by example,” but amid all the self-centered concern these days, the shallow self-promotion and self-gratification, there simply aren’t enough examples.

Here are two.

As published in The Daily News, August 31, 2012, and in The Memphis News, September 1-7, 2012

(pictured: Pud Ballenger, 6th from both left and right, stage center at Miss Hutchison’s dance recital, ca. 1918)

Pajama Pud Center


My friend Joan White died a couple of weeks ago. You may not have known that.

In fact, if you aren’t a member of advertising’s old school fraternity, you may not know that Joan made the boys let the girls in and made the business, and us, better. In fact, if you aren’t a member of Temple Israel, you may not know how much she meant there, how her steady devotion gave steady evidence of, in the words of her rabbi, “a life worthy of living that enriched us all.” You may not know that she was Miss Holly to Mr. Bingle, trailblazer and mentor to generations of ad agency folks, and just the volunteer to talk to in the Temple Israel shop if you were looking for just the right menorah or kiddush cup. And because of her selfless work and life ethic, business women today will never have to know how tough it was in the fifties for a single Jewish mother from Chicago with a two-year-old in tow to make it here.

Recently, a friend told Joan at lunch that Miss Holly and Mr. Bingle were getting quite a few hits on Google. “Why?” Joan wondered. It was never, ever about Joan.

As Rabbi Danziger, friends and family talked about Joan, I was reminded of someone else. Someone else who defied stereotypes and pushed boundaries and inspired others by who she was, someone to be like and learn from, someone I loved very much.

My mother-in-law Pud Ballenger died in 1998. Most of the people who knew her didn’t know that she was the society editor for The Commercial Appeal in her twenties, or in charge of communications for her beloved Southwestern years before it was Rhodes, or the author of a book on etiquette, or, in fact, that she wrote at all.

Her father, George Mahan, was one of Memphis’ most famous residential architects and when he saw Pud’s plans for her house, he threw his away. I once was skeet shooting while Pud watched. I asked if she’d like to, literally, give it a shot. She took the shotgun, smiled, said “pull” eight times and shattered all eight clays. That’s when we all found out – husband, daughter, son-in-law – that she’d been on the shooting team in college. When she and Doc, my father-in-law, did indeed break the bank and win all of Bert Parks’ money – all of $2,100 – on early TV’s national game show “Break The Bank,” they were given 78 rpm records of their winning run. Pud tossed them. “No one’s interested in that,” she later explained. It was never, ever about Pud.

She once called the fire department about a little smoke and a suspicious smell from an outlet.

“I don’t want to be a bother,” Nora heard her tell them, “Just send one quiet truck.”

One quiet truck has come for Joan and Pud. And it left huge tracks.

I’m a Memphian, and I remain inspired by the women in my life.


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