Colleagues, friends, family, admirers, industry figures gather one last time to praise and bid farewell to an industry legend remembered for being a generous and honest straight-shooter.
By Jim A. Luff, LCT contributing editor & personal friend
NEW ORLEANS — Operator Dean Schuler, an industry icon for more than three decades, was remembered and honored at his official memorial party on Dec. 2.
The event was marked with many fond memories and stories of a man who was involved in so many aspects of the industry, and gave so much personal effort to improve the industry and help it grow. Schuler, 57, died of a heart attack Nov. 19 at his home in New Orleans. He had been the owner and CEO of Signature Livery/Cary New Orleans since the early 1990s.
More than 100 people packed in to Allegro Bistro in New Orleans for the “Celebration of Life” event. Many speakers got choked up with emotion during their time on the microphone as they recalled memories of Dean in a room filled with photos of him from all stages of his life and career. His brother, Jim Schuler, shared stories of growing up in Danville, Calif., and being self-described “hippies” who enjoyed surfing.
The location was a favorite haunt of Schuler’s and even the owner of the establishment took a turn on the mic recalling her memories while being comforted by her daughter. She also attempted to keep Schuler’s favorite bar stool open, but one woman insisted on sitting in it, declaring that Schuler forever attempted to get her to sit on his lap and today she was finally going to take him up on the offer.
The room was filled with industry luminaries such as NLA president Diane Forgy, and NLA board members Sue Jarvis and David Eckstein. Carey International president and CEO Gary Kessler joined the event, along with executives from Limousine Digest, where Schuler was a longtime contributing writer.
Many of Schuler’s longtime close friends were present including David Hartson, also a chauffeur trainer in Las Vegas and West Coast contributing editor for Limousine Digest, Robert Logan, and Kyle Belew, Schuler’s personal attorney for many years. Also present were family members, Jim and Denice Schuler, who coordinated the event along with Schuler’s staff.
Among Schuler’s many accomplishments, Schuler had worked tirelessly to establish how many licensed limousine services, and more specifically how many vehicles, existed in the industry. He took it upon himself to research public records in many states for and localities for the permits issued by agencies, and would frequently call those operators who embellished their fleet numbers on the carpet. His research was thorough and organized and he presented the completed information to Limousine Digest for their exclusive use. They in turn sent him a check for his work, but Schuler returned the check saying he would not consider payment for his work on the self-initiated project, said several of the mourners in attendance.
Schuler might have been mortified at photos displayed that included him posing in a tuxedo in front of an early 1980s stretch limousine, or the one of him in a college-era blowout afro hairdo. Schuler later would have great disdain for white limousines and refer to those who operated them as “white car operators” as if they had some type of disease. Stories were shared of Schuler setting out on a quest upon acquiring an existing limousine service to shed all the white cars and use only black cars, as he felt they were more elegant and distinctive and representative of the industry’s luxury quality image.
In a corner of the room, Schuler’s business partner told about their initial association with Carey International. As Ed Sakakeeny recalled, their first office was basically a dump that had formerly been an apartment. Carey was coming to inspect their office and get to know them, hoping for an affiliate relationship.
Schuler and Sakakeeny “borrowed” an office, along with a brand new computer that had absolutely nothing in it. It was merely a prop. But the Carey official wanted to see their “book of business,” and what type of trips they had going that day.” Needless to say, both men were embarrassed. But their moxie and motivation didn’t prevent the affiliate relationship from being born, and later growing into a full franchise right.
At the conclusion of the event, the entire room full of attendees joined in a conga line, dancing to jazz music and waving white napkins over their heads. They danced throughout the restaurant and out onto the street and back in again.
As a friend of Dean’s, I can only imagine his smiling face from a Much Better Place. R.I.P.
PHOTOS OF DEAN SCHULER @ LCT BLOG
LCT DEAN SCHULER ARTICLES
COMING IN JANUARY 2011 LCT: Dean Schuler Remembrance Page.