vive ut vivas – A Tribute to My Friend & Mentor Joe Gilpin

vive ut vivas – A Tribute to My Friend & Mentor Joe Gilpin

Live so that you may live.  The phrase suggests that one should live life to the fullest and without fear of the possible consequences. My teacher, mentor and friend, Joseph Gilpin helped to instill this into my soul.  Joe was an amazing soul, a Bostonian priest who ended up teaching Latin in Bradenton, FL.  Joe passed away unexpectedly in September 2021.  It has taken me a while to process what exactly Joe meant to me.  This is my tribute to my teacher, mentor, and friend. 

Joe Gilpin circa ~1983

I’m not sure how or why I signed up for freshman Latin at Bayshore High School in the Fall of 1980, but nonetheless, I ended up in Joe’s class.  I think I decided that learning the root of all romance languages would be a good base for any other language and for college. The first thing I learned was that Joe was not like any of the other teachers I had ever met. Joe cared first about us.  Each of his students mattered a lot more than the topic he was teaching.  We spent much of our time together in class discussing life, family, politics, and philosophy.  

Smoke in toga at a Latin Club event

Yes, we did learn Latin, and I would end up spending four years in his class, in leadership in the FL Junior Classical League, doing well on the SAT and learning a tremendous amount about the Roman Empire and the root of our language.  It most certainly contributed to me being the only student at Bayshore to be admitted to and attend an Ivy League University (Cornell). That said, I learned a lot about life, philosophy and perspective that simply could not be taught in a book.  I also was a less than stellar student of Kathy Gilpins for Freshman English.  Sorry Kathy (I mean it!)

Joe challenged us to think.  Something I fear has mistakenly been lost in much of our education system today. He would never accept your first answer.  Instead, he challenged his students to think and explain. For this, I put Joe into 5+ most influential people in my life. 

He was a champion and leader in the teaching of the Classics.  He and his wife Kathy and later his son Christopher, would trek all over the country to attend the National Junior Classics League events  .   I was fortunate to attend the Florida JCL and win an award for the clay model of a Roman leader (LOL).  

The Latin Club (Kathy is far right next to Smoke and Joe is far left)

Student Council leadership….(before)
Story on the incident in Tampa Tribune

Not everything was roses in our relationship.  Joe was the faculty sponsor for the Student Counsel, and we attended the Palm Beach Gardens, FL meeting for all the High School Student counsels together.   Youthful indiscretion led a couple of us “Leaders” to bring some bottles of liquor to the convention.  We actually successfully “partied” during the event without incident, but the next morning Joe stopped by our room, and we had an empty bottle of Jack Daniels sitting by the TV.  He saw it, looked at me and teared up.  He had no choice but to report our indiscretion. This led to an embarrassing and public suspension of the guilty officers (not all) of the Bayshore HS student counsel. One of the other students had a family with money and they ended up suing the school because it wrecked his 4.0 grade point average.  I don’t know what ever happened with that, but I do know I had to explain my suspension on all my college applications.  Despite the situation that we experienced together; Joe wrote me recommendations to all my college choices. This included Cornell, MIT, Princeton, USC among others.    I ended up getting a full ride to USC but chose Cornell.  Princeton didn’t get it.  

A not very happy Joe on the way back from our student council convention!

The Gilpins at our Wedding

I always stayed in touch with Joe, albeit sporadically.  When I remarried I invited Joe and Kathy.  They unexpectedly accepted and joined us for our blessed event in the desert of Las Vegas in the Spring of 2008 along with about 100 of our family and friends. It was an amazing experience for us to reconnect and to share that magical time together.  On the funny side of things, my wife Anitra and I had a limo and everyone else was sent out to the Red Rocks Park on buses. As we were about to leave Vegas in our Limo, Joe and Kathy ended up missing the buses.  Of course, we had them join us for Veuve Clicquot in our wedding limo. Needless to say, certain things were not possible with Joe and Kathy in our limo (LOL) but it was as special moment together.  

We were blessed to have them join our family at this magical event.  I only wish we had another time to hang and reminisce.  I learned of Joe’s untimely passing through his son Christopher on Facebook back in September.  I knew I wanted to write a tribute to him and his influence on me and so many others, but it took me a while to put my thoughts together and express my gratitude.

Joe and Smoke at Red Rock State Park in Nevada

The Roman poet Horace wrote, “Seize the day; put no trust in the morrow.” or as you might recognize Carpe diem, in Latin form. In the spirit of what Joe imparted on me and so many others, vive ut vivas; Live so that you may live.  I don’t think any of us living through the past couple of years during the Pandemic think about life quite like we did before.  Never has it been more important to live your life fully.  I try to do so each and every day and wish that upon each and every one of you.

Joe’s official obituary can be found here.

My Appreciation for Joel Covington and my Vanderbilt Journey

My Appreciation for Joel Covington and my Vanderbilt Journey

The world lost a good man this week. I did not I stay in touch with Joel frequently after attending Vanderbilt Owen Business School in the early 1990s. I do, however, remember him well. Joel with a wry humorous wit, always had a comment when I’d see him in passing on my visits back to school. He seemed to be on the inside of a joke, that one was never sure if it was about you, but it didn’t matter, as he said it with a smile.   But most of all for me, Joel, who was Director of Admissions at the time, had the wisdom to look beyond a checkered undergraduate academic career, and understand a young aspiring business person who demonstrated his passion but little else. When others looked only at the black and white on paper, Joel met with me in person and consulted with Nick Whitcombe, my Cornell wrestling pal who was already at Vandy, and was able to see my potential and gave me a chance when it mattered. For this I am grateful.

“At twenty years of age the will reigns; at thirty, the wit; and at forty, the judgment.” – Benjamin Franklin.  Joel, thanks for having the judgement to recognize my will would turn into something.

Here is a nice story remembering Joel in Vanderbilt News




Remembering Ray Tye and Dustin Drapkin

Remembering Ray Tye and Dustin Drapkin

I usually try to keep this focused on relevant issues I see in the industry that deserve being called out or discussed in some greater detail.  Those of you who have read my posts will know that once in a while I will reflect on something or in this case, someone, who has made a big impact on me.  This was a tough week.  I was at Bar & Nightclub for their annual shindig in Vegas, where I met with business partners, potential customers and spoke on two panels about what brands might be next in the wine, spirits and beer business.  I’ll post later on about this as I think it is a very good topic for discussion and attention.


I found out on Tuesday that Dustin Drapkin, a 23 year old rising star passed away while in Aspen at his family vacation home.  See his obit in the NY Times here.  This was more than shocking to me.  Dustin had graduated undergrad from the U of Penn Wharton school last year.  I met him through his father Donald Drapkin whom I met while raising money for a new liquor brand I was the consulting on and acting as CEO.  Donald is the Vice Chair of Lazard and an incredibly accomplished individual.  We met first at the Four Season’s restaurant in NY for lunch.  During the course of our conversation we discussed our families and he told me about Dustin.  Dustin was described to me as a very smart, free spirited individual who was looking for the right career path out of school, but was an unlikely fit in a standard corporate setting.  I immediately became interested in meeting him as  I was looking to put a small team together to launch the spirits brand.

Dustin and I met at the Cornell Club in NY for lunch.  During the course of our first, 2nd and  3rd subsequent meetings at the Cornell Club, I was struck by Dustin’s raw enthusiasm for life and living.  We hit it off and I gave him a provisional offer (pending funding of the company) prior to his graduation trip abroad over the summer.  I have rarely seen anyone as enthusiastic about any new project as Dustin was to join my team.  His energy was infectious.  When the owners of the new brand abruptly pulled the plug on the project, one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had was to let Dustin know we would not be moving forward last August.    I told him that I could not predict when or exactly what, but down the road there would be opportunities for us to do things together.  We agreed to stay in touch.

By November I was back in NY for Wine 2.0 and reached out to Dustin to see what he was up to.  It turns out, he and some friends were using their music industry background to create the “world DJ league”… he was very excited about it and I told him I’d be happy to help in any way I could.  Dustin and a friend attended Wine 2.0 NY and then the next day, we spent about 5 hours together discussing his new business, listening to my wife sing and another friend play piano and generally enjoying life.

Dustin Drapkin and Smoke Wallin

I agreed to join his board and to help mentor him as they progressed.  Little did I know that was the last I’d see Dustin.

I did receive a call from Dustin in January telling me he had been accepted into the French Culinary Institute and that he was pursuing his dream to be a chef.  I unfortunately, never had the chance to speak to him again.  Dustin died way too young.  His friends put a group together on Facebook “why I’ll always remember Dustin Drakin” which has some nice pictures and memories.  My heart felt condolences go out to Donald and Bearnice and the whole Drapkin family.


On Friday I received word that Ray Tye had passed away at 87.  Ray was an incredible individual and someone whom I admired greatly coming up in the wine and spirits industry.  Ray had almost “Pope-like” qualities and respect from everyone who knew him.  There has been much written about his great philanthropy to needy kids and causes.  His Boston Herald obit is here.  Ray was one of Boston’s and frankly this country’s greatest philanthropists.  I got to know Ray beginning in from afar in the late 1980s and then up close in the mid 1990s through the middle 2000s.  As I was coming up in the leadership at the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America WSWA, Ray was always a steady and wise voice in the room who’s counsel I greatly benefited from.  One other great thing about Ray was his son Micheal Tye.  Micheal and I became friends through WSWA and he was a real forward thinking individual.  While I know he and his father had a falling out at one point, they had reconciled and Michal had rejoined the family firm (United Liquors) prior to his untimely death, also from cancer.

WSWA past presidents, including Ray Tye (4th from left) and Smoke Wallin

A couple of shots of Ray from WSWA days…

I’m heading to Boston in the am for Ray’s service.  Although I’m sure Ray and Dustin never met, I believe Ray would have instantly taken a liking to Dustin as I did.  My wish is wherever they are, if it is possible, that they meet. One man who accomplished so much in a long and prosperous life.  Another who in a short short span, showed so much promise. They both had a tremendous effect on those who were blessed to meet them.  Rest in peace gentlemen.

My thoughts are with you both.

Ray and Eileen Tye in St. Lucia at WSWA exec retreat

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