What Did You Bring Me?

 In Community, Culture, Fred's Blog, Friendship, People, Relationships, Travel, Uncategorized, Vocation

Listen to “What Did You Bring Me?” By Fred Smith


A big surprise for me when we moved to Tyler was how many people here travel all over the world. I expected a relatively small town in rural Texas to be more isolated and provincial. It remained puzzling until discovering that during the Great Depression there were very few places in the country with a strong economy and liquidity. Tyler was one of them and became an early example of venture capital and private equity. Families invested in properties on every continent and while many people assume the wealth of this community is built completely on oil, a good percentage of the wealth comes from those early investments. In many ways this community is tied to global business far more than I imagined. That also led to international travel and connections with a world far removed from home.

Because I spent so much time waiting for flights in the local airport myself watching people arrive from distant places, I became curious about what they were bringing back with them from their time away. Soon, I began to imagine myself as a customs agent greeting them as they arrived. Rummaging carefully through their suitcases I was not asking them if they had fruits or vegetables. Instead, I would query them about who they met and what new ideas they brought back with them. I was not interested in souvenirs, ticket stubs from Broadway plays, receipts from Michelin-rated restaurants, or ski lift tags. Those were fine but I wanted to know what they learned and were returning with that would benefit the community. I wanted to know what they talked about at dinner and how their thinking might have changed as a result. If all you bring back from “out there” are experiences or another checked box on a list of things to see but not something you learned for sharing with the rest of us, then we may not let you back through customs until you do. Mark Twain said,Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” I wanted to know how their world had expanded by travel.

I hold myself to the same standard and work hard to make the privilege of travel benefit others. I was in Nashville last week and spent time with people I would love for you to meet if you have not. Maybe I can introduce you.

Is This Your Luggage?

Lunch with Howard and Roberta Ahmanson was, as always, a time to stretch. In fact, they both know so much about numerous topics the challenge is to keep them focused. Roberta laughed when she said, “Why do I need Google when I have Howard?” It’s probably true for both of them. However, there is one thing about them that I treasure most of all. While they travel constantly, read voraciously, and frequent museums and art galleries, they do not generate envy. They are not enamored with knowledge or privilege but, instead, are in love with learning in order to teach others about a world too many of us have either forgotten, dismissed or never seen. 

Dinner was with Jordan Ritter Conn and the family of Riyad Alkasem at Riyad’s restaurant, Cafe Rakka. Jordan wrote “Road From Raqqa” to tell the story of two brothers who fled Syria leaving behind a community destroyed by war. Starting as a dishwasher in Los Angeles, Riyad now owns Cafe Rakka and has been featured on Guy Fieri’s show, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”  For Riyad, his new country, according to the New York Times, “is a mixed place that has “confounded him,” but also delivered delirious joys.” That same day it was announced that the new Administration is going to raise the level of refugees and asylum seekers. We are fortunate they have chosen to live here.

Breakfast with Jeff Conn, Jordan’s father and the director of the Conn Lab at Vanderbilt University made my day. After years in the pharmaceutical industry developing new drugs, Jeff, with his wife Anita, moved to Nashville to work as a research scientist focused on neuroscience and identifying brain circuits that are impacted in psychiatric disorders with the potential to produce treatments for schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. But we did not talk about that. Instead, we talked about his calling to create hospitality facilities for the families of patients undergoing treatment for mental illness. Called the Kataluma Project (Greek for guestroom) it will provide temporary relief and support for families to encourage them they are not alone in the crisis.

There was so much more in my luggage I would like to share! But I would just be holding up the line behind me.




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    Bob Fryling

    Great commentary and insights on the benefit of travel. It is one of things I most miss with the pandemic. But I had to smile at your delightful description of being with Howard and Roberta. I too have benefitted from their tremendous inquisitiveness and loquacious love of learning. Thank for opening your suitcase of relationships!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith

      We’ll see if they like it! We like to surprise each other. Thanks, Bob.

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