John Shelton, R.I.P.

People call me nearly every day with a stopped up drain problem, but they almost have to know someone in order to get my phone number. It’s on my web site, but I never advertise in the ordinary sense of the term and, therefore, practically all new customers begin by saying “I got your name from ….”

One day the caller said “I got your name from John Shelton.” I’d never heard of John Shelton, but I didn’t mention that to the customer. I was just glad to get the call and the chance to earn some money. Then such calls continued to trickle in. Finally I asked a caller who “John Shelton” was and found out that he had an appliance repair business in Memphis.

Naturally, I got a call one day from a customer who asked me if I knew someone who repaired appliances. I said I’d check around and I found John in the phone book. I found out from him that we had had a customer in common who told him about me. John’s reaction was “That’s the plumber I’ve been looking for! I often have to refer my customers to a plumber and every time, the plumber ends up doing them wrong.”

We met in person eventually, saw one another occasionally on job sites or at supply houses, worked together on my furnace one evening, but never became actual friends. We were about the same age, but of different lifestyles. We shared a common business philosophy, though, and it caused us to cling together in an informal way and to refer customers to each other constantly. It is very hard to find a trustworthy tradesman, and we who are trustworthy form an alliance nearly as strong as a blood oath. John expected me to treat his customers just as he treated them, and I knew that those customers thought that he was the appliance man from Heaven.

I left a message on his phone a few days ago. This morning the executor of his estate called to inform me that he had died by his own hand on Dec. 18th. Checking back in the Memphis newspaper (which I seldom read), I see that he first shot his estranged wife in a restaurant where she sat with a male friend, then he turned the gun on himself.

Memphis had found something it really needed when it found John. John needed something too, but I guess he never really found it.