Courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Art
Once upon a time, tucked into a small niche on an upper floor of Dayton’s department store in downtown Minneapolis, there was a tiny refreshment counter where they sold ice-cold Guernsey milk, fresh from the Dayton family farm, plus cookies. Guernsey milk, I should point out, had the highest fat content of any milk ever produced, sort of the equivalent of today’s half and half. Now, when I was a small child, several times a year my grandmother would take me downtown on the streetcar, and we would do incredibly fun things, including a visit to the heavenly milk bar at Dayton’s. So, in a tangential way, my involvement with Bruce Dayton began in 1938, though I never actually met him until decades later. In about 1998, I was seated next to Bruce at a luncheon meeting, except I wasn’t eating because I was on yet another weight-loss diet. So, I turned to him and said, “Bruce, I’ve been on diets all my life, and I believe the root cause of my weight problem is that I got hooked on that high-fat milk in your store, and as soon as my lawyer gets his license back, I’m going to sue you for causing me a lifetime of stress and suffering.” He finished a bite of chicken, turned to me, and said, “You won’t win. That was Ken’s department.” I’ve been fortunate in my life to know many successful and wonderful people, but Bruce Dayton was more than that. He was a great man. Consider: sharp, sharp mind; remarkably creative vision; deeply embedded spirit of generosity; impeccable taste; and that old-school gentlemanliness that can’t be learned. When he came into the room, you instinctively knew he was someone special.
Personal recollection: Twenty-five years or so ago, Bruce agreed to lead a $50 million capital campaign at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, but for reasons that remain unclear to this day, insisted that I serve as co-chair with him. Shortly after the campaign got underway, Bruce required surgery for, as I recall, prostate cancer. I visited him in the hospital and brought him—rather than candy, flowers, or a book—a big box of RyKrisp, which he loved. On the note, I wrote, “If you think you can get out of running this campaign just by getting cancer, think again.” As usual, he was a step ahead of me because after he read it, he said, “Actually, I’m going to make phone calls while I recover. I think it will help if people know I’m calling from my sick bed.”
Cameras are not my friends because I always look disheveled and fat in photos, so I always avoided standing near Bruce at MIA parties with roving photographers. Bruce: trim, perfect suit, Charvet tie, great posture. Me: none of the above. There are no existing photos of the two of us together.
I had dearly hoped Bruce would live to be 100, because it seemed so appropriate and because I think he would have loved it. But it wasn’t meant to be, and now he’s gone, leaving me to slip more into the past and wonder: Have ever there been five brothers who did so much, gave so much, helped so much to shape and elevate the standards and the life and the destiny of the community in which they lived? All about us the legacy of Bruce and his brothers lives on in the beauty and strength of our physical facilities and resources that surround us, in our sense of commitment to work for the common good, and in that Minnesota Nice spirit of always taking the high road.
So long, Bruce Dayton. We thank you and will miss you always. And may you rest in peace, the peace you so richly deserve, good friend.