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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Eric Rhoads, originally of Fort Wayne, visited Castle Gallery Fine Art on Thursday, where his 2018 painting, “Tuscan Villa on the Hill,” is on display.

  • Associated Press Black smoke pours from the North Tower of the World Trade Center after it was struck by American Airlines Flight 11 Sept. 11, 2001./p>

Wednesday, September 11, 2019 1:00 am

The gift of time

A personal 9/11 near miss stirs reflection on all that was so close to being lost

Eric Rhoads

Eric Rhoads, a Fort Wayne native and a 1973 graduate of Homestead High School, began his radio career at the Indiana Tech radio station, eventually becoming the youngest major-market radio personality in America at 17 at Y100 in Miami-Fort Lauderdale. He is founder of the Plein Air Convention and the Figurative Art Convention. He visited Fort Wayne last week. 

The year was 1999, and I had just raised the first round of financing and hired a team of about 50 people for a dot-com startup. We launched one of the first internet radio networks online.

After a couple of years, once we'd proved concept, developed some great new patents and technology, and had actual customers, it was time to go to the market for more money, so we began the process of pitching our second round. Over several months I made more than 200 presentations to every possible venture group and strategic investor, raising considerable commitments, but we had to finish the round and close one major strategic investor. One of those people was Ginny Hubbard-Morris at Hubbard Broadcasting – the people who launched the DSS Satellite and DirecTV.

As we did on all trips with the executive team, we scheduled multiple meetings in each location and then moved on to other cities. Our first stop was to visit with several investors in New York. Our team was to meet at 8:30 a.m. in the lobby of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, for coffee. Our chief financial officer, Mark Dirsa, had a meeting with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the World Trade Center, and then we were to go across the street to our second meeting, to talk with Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal about a strategic investment. Following our day in New York, we planned to fly to Minneapolis to meet with Hubbard.

On Sept. 10, Hubbard-Morris phoned to cancel our meeting because something had come up. We would have to reschedule for the following week. Though I was discouraged, the team's first instinct was to go to New York anyway. But Hubbard-Morris appeared to be our best prospect to complete the round, so I decided to reschedule our meetings and make the trip the following week.

The rest, as they say, is history. Had Hubbard-Morris not called on Monday to cancel, we would have been in the World Trade Center at 8:30 a.m. and would have been there at 8:46 when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower.

Everyone has a 9/11 story. Most did not end as happily as mine.

So many of us lost friends and colleagues on that tragic day. I feel blessed to have been forced to cancel my trip.

Thanks to that cancellation, I've had a gift of 18 wonderful years, including the gift of my triplet children, whom my wife was carrying at the time. That time has been a precious gift.

I remember being so frustrated and uptight when the meeting was canceled. My first reaction was to phone Hubbard-Morris and push to make the meeting happen anyway, but I decided to go with the flow.

Imagine what would have happened had I pushed and she'd agreed.

It was an important lesson that richly rewarded me. Now, when things don't happen as I hope, I realize that I cannot control everything and should let things flow naturally.

As we remember the tragedy and the friends we lost on that day, let's not forget the commitments we made to ourselves and our families on 9/11. Almost everyone I know committed to spending more time with his or her family and more time on the things that were most important to them. For me it was the commitment to be with my wife and children as much as possible and to focus my work life on doing what I love, art and radio broadcasting, my other career. As a result, my company is not motivated by financial opportunity alone. If we don't love it and don't believe in it, we don't do it.

As far as I'm concerned, any day working around creative radio people, art, artists and art professionals is a good day. This event made me realize the importance of passion in my life, which has since resulted in the creation of a passion for collecting art, more time painting and the creation of several art-related media properties, including Fine Art Connoisseur, PleinAir, Artist Advocate, the PleinAir Today newsletter, OutdoorPainter.com, the PleinAir Salon, the Realism Forum and the PleinAir Convention & Expo. I also created several new products and events in the radio industry. All because a meeting was canceled and I was given an 18-year gift.

If anything good came from the tragedy, it was the fresh appreciation for life and loved ones we all experienced. This anniversary should remind us of that most of all.

Eric Rhoads, a Fort Wayne native and a 1973 graduate of Homestead High School, began his radio career at the Indiana Tech radio station, eventually becoming the youngest major-market radio personality in America at 17 at Y100 in Miami-Fort Lauderdale.