“If you think you can, or you think you can’t … you’re right!”– Henry Ford
Bob Peyton is quick to pull out the battered brown wallet from his back pocket and yank from it his “milestones” card: a tiny square laminated paper Rosetta stone that Peyton says he updates every time something big happens in his life. The plastic encased card represents the ebb and flow, the yin and the yang of the life of this 78-year-old seller of dreams.
But these aren’t the dreams of Hollywood riches or fountain of youth longevity. The dreams that Bob Peyton sells are the dreams waiting to be discovered inside each person he meets.
“Here, look here,” Peyton says, his milky blue eyes glimmering in anticipation as he holds out the card for inspection:
09-23-1930 Bob Born
“That’s me,” Peyton says with a smile.
“That’s my wife!”
“Cancer operation,” he says.
“Robert was … is my son,” Peyton says. “Jeannette and I had five children and Robert was my shining star. He and I were close as a father and son could be. Every morning for 25 years we got together for coffee and we’d discuss everything from what we were going to do during the day to events around the world. I relied on him a lot. He was everything to me. Robert had an enormous IQ. Tremendously smart.
He was also very much overweight. And he had everything that goes with that, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure. One day, he just died. He was only 52.” Peyton holds up the little card.
“Lookit there,” he says, running his finger down the dates and notations on the little card. “Cancer operation, Robert died. We lost our home. Then the house we rented was wiped out by Katrina. The job I had, I lost that. It all happened one behind the other. But every time something bad happened, I just said, ‘Hey this isn’t going to defeat me! I am going to come out of this!’”
He continues, “I have about 3,000 photos scanned into my computer. One hundred of them are of my son, Robert: at his birth, teething, wearing a diaper, the first time he walked, played ball, in his altar boy uniform … I have one taken about a month before he died. About once a week, I tell Jeannette, ‘Let’s go visit Robert. We put on a slide show and we relive all the highlights of his life. For us, it’s not on a screen. We’re really walking through life with him. How can anybody be sad about that?”
In a flash, all eyes (and ears) are on Peyton at the morning sales meeting of Fox Pro Media, a giant New Orleans printing and publishing firm owned by Peyton’s longtime friend and former WDSU-TV sportscaster, Greg Fox. Each morning Peyton closes out the daily meeting by firing up the sales force not with a “can do,” but with a “will do” rousing coaching session that would wear out a man half his age.
“The man is amazing,” says Fox. “And he believes everything he says. He walks the walk. Not a phony bone in his body. If I could bottle the enthusiasm that man has for life, I’d be a millionaire! You’re around him for just a few seconds and you feel like you could get up and whip the world! In the last few years, he’s had one tragedy after another, but he just grits his teeth and smiles right through it. I’ve never heard him whine and feel sorry for himself.”
Peyton says his “will do” attitude toward life was forged in his Depression-era childhood, when he grew up with nine siblings in an Uptown household headed up by an alcoholic father. His mother “had to scrape together anything she could to put one meal a day together for us.”
“We always had a hustle going on the streets,” Peyton says. “You did it or you starved. When we were small kids, I remember my brother and I would place a rope across the sidewalk and we’d sit on each end and tell people, ‘A penny to pass!’ Some of those people would whack us upside the head but then again, we picked up some pennies doing that. You just can’t be afraid to try. That’s my motto in life.”
Bob Peyton’s formal education ended after one semester at Fortier High School. “I knew I had to get out there and earn money. I left school but I never stopped learning. I read Dr. Norman Vincent Peal, Earl Nightingale. I studied Dale Carnegie. I came to truly believe that there was nothing out there in the world that could defeat me. It was like Vince Lombardi used to say, ‘Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing’”
Peyton hit the streets as a Borden’s milk delivery man, hustling those glass quart bottles up to doors all over New Orleans early every morning. When the company brought in a Carnegie speaker, Peyton was one of only two sales people to sign up. That was all it took. In short order, Bob Peyton went from hustling milk to promoting self-motivation as a salesman for Carnegie. His lack of a college education (not to mention a high school diploma) barred him from becoming a Carnegie instructor. Then again, if Bob Peyton learned anything from all these motivation gurus over the years, it was “Just do it!”
In short order, his sales were so high, Peyton was moved to customer relations, then to his dream: Dale Carnegie instructor.
“I had this young, good-looking guy in one of my classes and I commented on what a great voice he had,” Peyton says. “It was Greg (Fox). He told me he was on the radio over in Hattiesburg. We hit it off pretty good. A year or so later, he went to work for Carnegie. A while later, I left Carnegie and with a friend of mine, we started our own business of motivational talks. It was called The Success Center and we sold it all over the world – oil rigs on the North Sea, Alaska, Europe. All over Louisiana. We did it the old fashioned way – we wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. We believed in what we were doing and we were as enthusiastic as all get out.”
Peyton landed a big fish: All 45 stores in the now defunct Canal-Villere supermarket chain. (“Teaching attitude, motivation, communication and customer service.”) “We worked with Canal-Villere for 10 years,” Peyton says. “Then they were bought out by Schwegmann’s and that killed it.”
Then came what is the defining moment in the lives of many New Orleanians: Hurricane Katrina.
“We had Katrina before Katrina hit,” Peyton says. “Just before the hurricane, I lost my home, I had a cancer operation that I tell friends was ‘a trip to hell and back’ and Robert died. When Katrina hit, what little we did have left we lost in the flood.” Then, in stepped an old friend – Greg Fox. Fox had joined Peyton’s company before moving into television and his slot on the WDSU-TV sports desk. Fox had since left television to form his own company – Fox Pro Media, Inc. – and brought his old mentor and friend back into the fold.
“I wanted a job in the warehouse. I wanted to get active again and let’s face it. I had lost everything. I needed the money. However, Greg said, ‘No, I want you to train my people, just like you did with me.’”
And so, what goes around comes around!
But it isn’t the end for Bob Peyton. It is just the beginning.
“Did I tell you that along the way I went back and got my GED?” he says with a wink. “I also enrolled at the University of New Orleans. I’ve been going there for eight years. All I need is one more class to graduate. I’m taking that this fall. It’s in General Education. I figure I’ve been teaching people for so long I may as well get a degree to I’ll know how to do it. Then I can tell Greg, now that I have my college degree, you’ll have to give me a raise,” he laughs.
What Peyton doesn’t say is that one of his daughters, who’s 47 years old, is also on the verge of achieving a bachelor’s degree in general education. Since she’s scheduled to pick up her baccalaureate in 2009, Bob Peyton, has asked and received permission to postpone his graduation until then so father and daughter can walk across the stage at UNO together.
“Then I’m going back to get my masters, then my Ph.D.,” Peyton says. “I did the math and I’ll be 90 when I get my doctorate. Who says that’s too old?”
Add that to the ‘milestones list’ and keep on believin’, Bob.