Time is short.
What a concept to learn in life.
We see it firsthand in the growth of kindergarteners turning into college graduates. Just like that, they’re carrying diplomas into adulthood.
We smell it in the sweet puppy breath of a bumbling, 6-month-old fur baby. And thousands of doggie treats later, we sniff elder age after their sixth tooth extraction.
We touch it in the Bradford pear tree that was only 3-feet tall in the front yard during our youth. Its branches were mere twigs then, but 35 years later, children climb it.
We hear it in the sweet voices of elders—our parents, grandparents, idols—who, with age, slow their words … because they understand how full comprehension can be impactful later in life.
At encore we have had to face the hard lesson of time’s jet speed. Last weekend our publisher, Jeff Phenicie (“rhymes with Tennessee,” as he used to say), passed away and left behind an indelible mark on all who were lucky enough to have been graced by his presence. Still, after 14 years of knowing him, it feels like yesterday I was introduced to such a kind soul. His happy presence always came with a funny story, usually self-deprecating, followed by a congenial smile. His laugh was contagious, his love for numbers intimidating, and his loyalty to family staggering.
He was the perfect guy behind the scenes to help run encore, Devour, AdPak, and KIDZink, among other print products H&P Media (née Wilmington Media) have produced under his thumb. Jeff was “the numbers guy,” so to speak. He could tell you last week’s sales and next week’s projections and the year’s bottom line at the drop of a hat. But that’s not what really impacts people, per se, in the grand scheme of leaving behind a legacy. Sure, continuing to run H&P Media will happen with his lessons close to our vests. Where the numbers really mattered in Jeff’s life showed in his give-back to family and the community at large.
In the vein of independently owning and operating a media company, Jeff lived very much in line with encore’s dedication to supporting local economy and business. He was an avid UNCW Seahawks fan and attended every game, in and out of town, playoffs included. He loved to dine out with his wife, family and friends—especially to stop in and see friends like Willie at Antonio’s or Sal at Pizzetta’s. When he wasn’t attending to the needs of family or business, Jeff played on a local bowling league at Cardinal Lanes on Shipyard, even coached youth, and could strike with the best of his teammates.
And what a teammate he was—on and off the lanes. He loved sales. He had something most salesmen don’t: generosity to listen and react thoughtfully. Jeff never merely pawned off the next best-selling item; he was cultivating friendships first. He was introducing us to people left and right, like his heart doctor, Damien Brezinski, who wasn’t only helping Jeff improve his health but who was launching Chords for a Cause (and who now runs downtown’s music venue, Blue Eyed Muse). Jeff showed us how kindness and friendships carry the best sales people—and business people—especially in small cities, like Wilmington, where an entrepreneur isn’t another number on a chart, but a living, breathing, contributing soul to the grander scheme of what community feels like.
Jeff was so many wonderful things—a watchdog of life, even. “Shea, when’s the last time you changed your tires?” I would hear like clockwork every few years, as he pointed to their very worn-down tread. “Go over to Rubles on Fifth. Your dad will be mad at you if you drive home with tires like that.”
Jeff was in tune on so many levels, to so many people. What a legacy to be proud of—one that will continue to be cultivated every week in encore’s pages and the pages of every product H&P puts out from here forward.
As Ray Bradbury wrote in “Fahrenheit 451,” “It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”
Jeff changed many of us for the better. For that we are grateful. His absence has made us all the more cognizant of the importance of numbers: Time really is short.
— Editor, Shea Carver
John Hitt, H&P Media publisher
I have known Jeff for the last 14 years. He was my boss and later became my business partner and friend. He was the patriarch of our company, the guy who had been through it all. He was my mentor.
In the days since we lost him, there have been challenges in our business. As I work through those challenges, my unfailing instinct is to tell myself, “Just ask Jeff. He’ll know the answer.”
The man with the answers is gone. I miss him very much, as does every employee and customer he worked with. We will carry on with our publications, but there will be something missing in all of our lives as we move forward.
Our loss in nothing compared to the loss Jeff’s family is experiencing. I can only hope they all know how much we loved and respected him, and we will all do whatever we can to help them.
We’ll miss you, buddy.
Susie Riddle, office manager
I was very fortunate to work for Jeff for over 20 years, and he was hands down one of the best bosses I have ever had. He was more like family than a boss. He understood family was ultra important and allowed us to do what we needed whenever it came to our families.
So many great memories and laughs over the years were had, but one of many things I am going to really miss is our Monday morning chats about all the football and basketball games that would happen over the weekend. I loved the sports enthusiast in him. He will be greatly missed.
Shannon Gentry, assistant editor
When I think of Jeff, I think of his generous nature as a person and as a professional. He was generous with his time and his ear when you needed him. He was generous at lunchtime, especially when it came to ordering a last-minute pizza—his favorite. He was also generous with his trust. He trusted us all to be our best, and he trusted our best would be enough. I trust we’re all better and more generous people and professionals because of Jeff.
Tiffany Wagner, sales manager
I had the privilege of working with Jeff for just over a year. When I say “the privilege,” I don’t mean that lightly. Every quality Jeff had made him a great man. I took my job at encore because of the way Jeff and the folks at encore made me feel. I felt like I was family almost immediately—like a person rather than a number on a spreadsheet.
Jeff’s open-door policy and his calming nature made him a pleasure to work for. I valued his opinion and looked up to him as a mentor. His kind heart, compassion, sense of humor, and openness made him one of a kind. I enjoyed every conversation I ever had with him and am thankful I had the privilege of knowing him.
Jeff had an amazing gift of illustrating things from a business perspective without losing sight of the most important things in life—like family, friends, and internal happiness. I will forever miss him and the stories we shared. I will remember and cherish him always.
Boykin Wright, previous Wilmington Media publisher
For 25 years a good business partner—and more importantly a good friend.
Wade Wilson, previous Wilmington Media publisher
I was privileged to be one of Jeff’s partners at encore and AdPak. He always had great energy, ready advice and was quick with a laugh. He was instrumental in making Wilmington Media a longtime success story.
Kris Beasley, previous H&P Media employee, current owner of Southport Magazine
I met Jeff Phenicie in 1995 when he came to the radio stations where I worked to promote his new magazine. As promotions director for the stations, we worked closely together and developed a friendship. Several months later, I wanted to make a career change and get into sales. I reached out to Jeff for a job.
I began working for him in September of 1995 and left in 2013—almost 20 years. He was the best boss in town. Through the years, many people would try to hire me away, but I always stayed loyal to him. Jeff was a natural born salesmen. I remember him telling me the story about one of his biggest cold-call sales. He walked into a corporation with a big electric fan in his hand, and when he got in front of the decision maker he said, “I’ve got a deal so hot for you, you’re gonna need this fan!” He made the sale.
Over the years, Jeff and I made many sales calls together, and he would always say, “Now, Kris, I am not going to say anything. I want you to make the sale.” But I knew this was not possible for Jeff. Sure enough, seconds into the meeting he was dazzling them with his delightful personality. We were a good team, and I learned so much about selling and managing from him. He was like a second father to me.
Now that I am running my own business, not a week goes by I don’t recall a lesson or strategy I learned from him. I always knew he would be there for me. Jeff Phenicie was a happy soul with a heart of gold. He was my friend, and I loved him like a father. I will miss him, but his legacy will continue through me and all that knew him!