“May you always have love to share, health to spare and friends that care.”
That’s the signature on Jim Hlavin’s email, and it seems an apt signoff for him.
Hlavin ’52 is in Kissimmee, Fla., celebrating his 80th birthday. His wife, Mary, is with him, “speaking in cursive” as she works on her iPad. In his 80 years, Hlavin has done and seen a lot. With all the professional and personal changes that helped him grow, Mary has been his one constant, his rock.
Hlavin never will forget the day he met her. It was on a blind date, Jan. 20, 1961, President Kennedy’s inauguration. By April 1, Hlavin had proposed. Less than five months later, they were married.
“I dated a lot of nice girls, but when the chime rings in your head and you say, ‘I really truly love her,’ why wait?” Hlavin says.
Fifty-two years later, Mary still is Hlavin’s girl. “I love her dearly,” he says. “I love her gentleness, her willingness to enjoy life with me, her sense of humor.”
Humor comes to Hlavin just as easily as it does his wife. He’s lived enough to know that levity is a wonderful thing. “I look at life, I try to find the joy in it,” he says.
His wit spews like wildfire as he rattles off Gilmour memories in rapid succession. “William F. Buckley was our graduation speaker, so I guess we were all expected to be very Republican,” he jokes.
In a class of 21, Hlavin was one of only five students who didn’t dorm. Instead, he weathered the elements, taking the rapid to the bus every day just to get to school.
For Gilmour’s third graduating class, things were different than they are today. Hlavin, who lettered in football and track, recalls saying prayers before the start of school and dining at formal lunches every day in Tudor House.
“One brother sat at each table, and you would be expected to get his coffee and not spill it,” he remembers. “It was formal, and that was OK, and it taught you something about how the other half lived –the upper half.”
It was a real opportunity to go to Gilmour, Hlavin says. At the time, the school was seen as a prep school for the University of Notre Dame. With a handshake agreement, Hlavin followed the current and went there for college.
For Hlavin, Notre Dame was a happy place where equality reigned and students were united. They were all, Hlavin says, just happy to be there. Hlavin graduated with a bachelor’s in philosophy of domestic marketing before joining the R.O.T.C. and its Navy training division. Stationed on the Mediterranean in Villefranche-sur-Mer, France, Hlavin then was transferred to the Pentagon in 1958 to work with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“I was delivering top secret information to officers. I was kind of a glorified delivery boy,” he says. “I saw some very interesting things that Air Force guys suggested we do to our enemies. It was kind of hair-raising, but we won’t go into that.”
In 1959, Hlavin left the R.O.T.C. and took a sales job in Campbell’s new frozen foods division. It was the start of a colorful sales career for Hlavin, one that led him from Campbell’s to Stouffer’s frozen foods before he bought into a food brokerage company called Carlson Anderson and Associates in 1973.
Running accounts for Tropicana, Red Devil hot sauce and Libby’s fruits, Hlavin inherited most of the business from his two business partners in 1985. He sold the company five years later, but his retirement didn’t last long.
“I got home and my wife said, ‘Well, you can’t be hanging around here. You better go find a job,’” Hlavin says matter-of-factly. So, he took a job as a driver at a new executive car service.
“It was a fun retirement job,” Hlavin reminisces.
Actually, it was more than a “retirement job;” it was a second career. Hlavin worked as a driver for 20 years, up until just two years ago. “I met some very nice people, very corporate people, and coming from a very corporate atmosphere myself, I knew the value of intelligent conversation,” he says.
With a loving wife, six children, 14 grandchildren and an illustrious career, Hlavin says life’s been good to him. He was raised in a loving household by his mom and his aunt. His father passed away when Hlavin was 9, so he takes great pride in being a good father.
“Our children have told me and Mary that they each felt loved, individually, not as a group, which is nice,” he says.
Reflecting on his life, Hlavin says his faith has kept him moving in the right direction. “Mary and I pray together every night, and we thank God for every good day we have.”
What’s the best thing about life?I like the bright side of life.
What’s one quality you strive to impart to your children and grandchildren?
A sense of ethical behavior
You’ve been married for 52 years. What’s your secret?
We laugh a lot and truly enjoy each other’s company.
What’s your dream?
To have continued health for us both.