I remember Mama
HARRY A. MERLO, the legendary (at least in Oregon) and controversial former chairman and CEO of Louisiana-Pacific Corp., has steadfastly kept his privacy since he was fired from the giant wood-products company in 1995. Since then, as head of the Merlo Corporation, he’s continued to work globally in the forest industry, oversee his charitable foundation, and operate his California winery. All apparently without much need or desire for any more time in the media spotlight.
So it would take something much more important than business to draw out this lion in winter on a foggy, chilly November day at his office at Global Aviation in Hillsboro, and it is this: The 82-year-old Merlo has authored a book. Not about business, though it has plenty of that in it. And not about his high-profile ouster after 22 years with L-P, following the company being hit with lawsuits over defective house siding and a federal criminal indictment over environmental law violations.
“It is not about L-P,” says Merlo, cutting off any questions about the past. “It is about a great woman. I wrote the book for Mama.”
“Vintage Merlo,” co-authored with Kerry Tymchuk, the state director for Pendleton Republican Sen. Gordon Smith, is dedicated “To Mama, who made it all possible,” and indeed, the 150-page book begins with Merlo’s Italian immigrant parents and never lets go of how the hard work and love of his mother nourished and inspired him. There is also his abusive father, growing up dirt poor (so poor that “Dad took us to the graveyard every Christmas Eve to show us where Santa Claus was buried,” his brother jokes in the book), his career in the timber industry (the end of his L-P tenure is described simply as: “On July 31, 1995, L-P and I parted company”), and the famous people he met along the way (Maya Angelou, Malcolm Forbes).
“It’s the mother of all Horatio Alger stories,” says Tymchuk (in fact, Merlo is a member of the Horatio Alger Association). Tymchuk also has collaborated with Smith on Remembering Garrett, about the suicide of the senator’s 22-year-old son, and partnered with Bob and Elizabeth Dole on five books. But it was his collaboration with Columbia Sportswear’s Gert Boyle on her book, One Tough Mother, that caught Merlo’s attention. Tymchuk interviewed Merlo over the course of a year to write the book. A few thousands copies are being published this month by the Merlo Foundation.
Behind Merlo’s desk is a large painting of his mother and father from 1923. Clotilde Merlo died at age 69, when Harry was 44. In the book, he talks about how after she died, he caught himself wanting to pick up the phone to call and tell her something. It is a testament to the universal power of mothers that even now when talking about her, he is reverent, emotional.
“I never felt poverty because of her work,” Merlo says, the memory softening his voice. And it is unlikely that had she lived to see the considerable wealth and influence he has amassed that it would matter to her. “She wasn’t impressed by financial wealth,” he says. There are many pages devoted to “Merlo’s Maxims on Leadership,” which are infused with his mother’s influence. Including, “If you never share a dollar, you will never share a million.”
Merlo’s story ends with an ancient, ageless expression of love from mother to child, and now from child to mother. It ends with Mama’s favorites recipes.
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