The initial buzz of disturbance on Wall Street would increase to a frightened drone. For only two months before, John Curtis had been named president and CEO of the Luby's corporation, the largest cafeteria chain in the nation. And he had committed this grisly act on the eve of his very first board of directors' meeting—literally within a few hours of his ascent to the chair at the end of the table.
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The word suicide , derived from the Latin sui for "of oneself" and cide for "murder," is seldom so floridly demonstrated. An overdose of sleeping pills, a poisoning, hanging the second most common means of suicide in the United States after firearms , a leap from a bridge or building, or even the single shot from a gun muzzle held to the temple or jammed in the mouth do not suggest quite the extremity of malicious abuse and determined annihilation that stabbing does.
Even the four-letter arrangement in "stab" evokes a special chill: it sounds like the action it describes. Stylistically, the concept of stabbing can make us far more uneasy than other kinds of assault; there is something primal about it, smacking of an assassin sneaking silently up behind his victim in a night-drenched alley. It is a very intimate, hands-on, human -scale mode of death. Usually, in cases of murder, one or two—perhaps three—thrusts complete the job. With suicide fewer are necessary, or even physically possible, except when the perpetrator has entered a state of shock.
In cultures that have traditionally condoned suicide using sharp blades as an indirect type of execution, such as Romans receiving imperial orders to cut their veins, or societies in which a historical niche existed for suicide as an honorable solution to shameful circumstances, such as the Japanese hara-kiri belly-cutting , or seppuku, the one strong, straightforward slash was considered sufficient to expiate all the victim's sins.
According to psychiatrists, stabbing as a method of suicide is, anywhere in the world, extremely rare.
The act of self-stabbing implies an unsurpassable hopelessness coupled with ferocity; it is the quintessential self-murder. Even Juliet would have preferred Romeo's poison rather than her final, resigned recourse to his dagger. To all who knew him, especially his wife Kathi and his three children—Aimee, twenty-six; Daniel, twenty-five; and Adam, sixteen—Curtis was the most unlikely candidate for suicide that they could think of. The man who had groomed him for the chief executive role at Luby's Cafeterias, Inc.
Very bright, very conscientious. The only items of jewelry he owned were a silver James Avery key chain and a Seiko watch. The community and his Luby's colleagues knew him as a quiet, solid person of intelligence and reserved mien, a model of stability. He had trained as an accountant, earning his degree at Texas Tech University, before taking his first job at Arthur Young and Co. He then went on to work for Tejas Airlines before joining the Luby's staff in For the next 18 years he applied himself steadily to his tasks, making his way slowly up the corporate ladder.
Everyone who knew him liked him. His days and hours were all predictable and accounted for; he had no secret life, no hidden vices that any later investigation would reveal. Every Sunday he and his family attended services at the Tree of Life Fellowship in New Braunfels, Texas, where he enjoyed a close, confidential friendship with his pastor. Until three years before his death, he and his family lived in a modest home in New Braunfels, and he commuted the thirty miles into San Antonio for work.
When he received a substantial pay raise, giving him a six-figure salary, they moved to a small but tasteful house in a gated community in San Antonio. Kathi had known and loved him since the sixth grade.
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On announcement of his death, the public's instant assumption was that the condition of the company was to blame for Curtis's decision. The toxicology report from the autopsy showed no drugs or alcohol in his system. The only pharmaceutical product he had been ingesting was an asthma medication called Serevent, made by Glaxo Wellcome, which he had recently started taking twice a day. Data from the clinical trials proved that Glaxo researchers had noted no psychosis or depression induced by the drug.
Other than the broken sleep he had occasionally complained of to his wife after his promotion to the position of Luby's president and CEO, Curtis exhibited no signs of depression at all, no changes in his usual demeanor. Only one category of comment, made both to Kathi Curtis and to Pete Erben, indicated unease of any sort, and in corporate terms it certainly didn't seem to be of a nature to pressure someone into suicide: Curtis had felt troubled by two recent closures of Luby's stores, and the futures of the now unemployed personnel.
Naturally, therefore, the first concern was: what would the corporate books divulge? Was there a nasty surprise pending exposure at the Board meeting that Curtis had just dodged by taking his own life? Why else would he resort to such a bizarre and extravagant avoidance technique? The answers to all these questions are not simple. The fact that Curtis was not about to announce a loss at the meeting, but rather a small but decent gain in earnings, and that the company seemed to be in fine fiscal health, considering its recent expenditures, only served to render his suicide all the more opaque.
But the answers do, in all probability, lie within the context of the company for which he had so lately assumed responsibility. To find them, and understand them in all their moral weight and complexity, one must go back through the long history of an ideal American business to its beginnings, and probe the legacy that Curtis had shouldered for such a brief span of time.
One certainty will emerge in the following chapters: the death of John Curtis, like two other important events in the history of Luby's Cafeterias, Inc. All three events marked crucial changes, not only at Luby's, but in American society at large.
And all three signified a particular, and universal, "tipping point. Like many of its kind, this archetypal American story would seem, on the surface, to start as a straightforward tale—wholesome, and ripe with optimistic struggle that yields triumphant returns. But under the surface it is wrought with all the most riveting dramas and inner complexities of the human condition. And it so happens that the story's pattern, in many ways, duplicates the pattern, in miniature, of our country's history for the last century.
This is because Luby's has always been more than just a business. It has proven itself to be the incarnation of a unique product, one for which our country is so famous that during the past seventy-five years its title has become a catchphrase all over the globe. One television network evening news program recently devoted an entire year to the analysis of its substance. But the product is not an artifact of any manufacturing industry, or engineering know-how, or crop cultivation.
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Instead, its name unites two ephemeral concepts into a shape so apparently solid that nowadays it is taken for granted as a natural resource. The product in question is, of course, the American Dream. And Luby's Cafeterias, Inc.
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For a company—any company—to become the very essence of an idea is a rarity. For that idea to be so sweeping and fundamental presents a staggering challenge. No other country in the world has such a commensurate dream attached to its national identity; there cannot be said to exist an Irish Dream, or a German Dream, or an Indian or Japanese or Iranian Dream, or any other dream at all with the same magical furnishings of hope and plenitude as ours. The Old World long ago gave up on self-reinvention and the possibility of riches from nothing but hard work, fortitude, ambition, and vision that so fervently grips our civic imaginations.
More often than not, immigrants have come to America because this is the only place left where we all can choose to make our own luck. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position. Carol Dawson and Carol Johnston draw on insider stories and company records to recapture the forces that propelled the company to its greatest heights, including its unprecedented practices of allowing store managers to keep 40 percent of net profits and issuing stock to all employees, which allowed thousands of Luby's workers to achieve the American dream of honestly earned prosperity.
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The authors also plumb the depths of the Luby's drama, including a hushed-up theft that split the family for decades; the mass shooting at the Killeen Luby's, which splattered the company's good name across headlines nationwide; and the rapacious over-expansion that more than doubled the company's size in nine years , pushed it into bankruptcy, and drove president and CEO John Edward Curtis Jr.
Disproving F. Scott Fitzgerald's adage that "there are no second acts in American lives," House of Plenty tells the epic story of an iconic American institution that has risen, fallen, and found redemption—with no curtain call in sight. Help Centre.
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They were modest places known for good food at reasonable prices and quick service. Inspired in part by die Ford automobile assembly line, Harry Luby opened his first cafeteria in Springfield, Missouri, in 1 g 1 1. He followed the oil towns and inaugurated his first Texas restaurant in Beaumont in ig2i.
The stores were immediate successes and Luby franchised his cafeterias to his large extended family. After establishing eleven places in four states Harry Luby retired at age thirty-nine. They were careful to train managers in all aspects of the business before letting diem run a cafeteria.