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Validating old sayings by the life he lived

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“When your door of opportunity opens, remember it’s because someone oiled the hinges for you.” — Old saying certified by Jim Chionsini as an “Old Italian Saying.”

I never heard of old Italian sayings before I met Jim Chionsini. Since that day, however, there’s hardly a day passes that I don’t think about one.

A huge door of opportunity opened for me the day I met Jim at a Lion’s Club meeting in Center a little more than 40 years ago. He was the new owner of the East Texas Light newspaper in Center and I was new in town seeking employment with my short newspaper resume. Following that meeting, I shaved my editor’s beard, donned a dress shirt, and walked through the newspaper office door not realizing the professionalism, life philosophy, and friendship waiting on the other side.

Jim’s first assignment was also my first lesson in learning about old Italian sayings. “We’re a little behind on this special section,” he said. “See what you can do with it and we’ll look at it Monday.” I worked through the weekend presenting him with camera-ready paste-ups Monday morning. Terrified by the silence as he reviewed them, I filled the void with nervous laughter while saying. “I wasn’t sure what I could get done … but it came together nicely, don’t you think?”

That’s the first time I heard those words that would become second nature to me. “That reminds of an old Italian saying,” he replied. “Challenge people with more than you think they can accomplish and you’ll both learn something. You learned just how much you can accomplish when challenged, and I learned a lot about your work ethic.”

Jimmy preached the gospel of success via hard work employing his old Italian sayings to punctuate the sermons. When he named me publisher at Center and moved his office across town, he emphasized, “Remember that old Italian saying, you lead by example when you unlock the door in the morning and lock it at night.” Another thing I learned from that was that Jimmy practiced what he preached, never asking anyone to do something he would not do himself, or that he had never done.

Some thought I was the hardest working new publisher in Center when I was seen in the office well before 7 a.m. and locking the door most days way after 6 p.m. or later. Part of that was anticipating Jimmy’s good morning call with his list of detailed questions. If luck prevailed, my answers to most were satisfactory. But there was always that one question which left me fumbling for an answer: more often than not, his very first question. Noticing that trend, after stuttering for an answer one morning, I asked “How do you always know which question is the one that I am least prepared for?” Even on the phone, his huge smile was heard as he replied, “By going to work before you do and staying later than you do…which by the way is what you pay me for.”

Perhaps his favorite was, “Success comes from 90-percent hard work and 10-percent luck. And if you’re not lucky, just add another ten-percent of hard work.” He attributed it to his father who was also a successful business owner. Jimmy was proud of his Italian ancestry, referring often to his family’s history of work ethic to become successful in America. That conversation went hand-in-hand with his staunch patriotism and appreciation for a country where that opportunity is afforded anyone desiring it enough to work for it.

While his attributions of many old Italian sayings were to family and friends, it didn’t take long to figure out they were often inspirational quotes borrowed from many sources. What transformed them from catchy sayings on a mug or a poster was when Jimmy ordained one thereby elevating it to certified “Old Italian Saying” status, he lived it.

Over time, the challenge became finding appropriate sayings that were unique for his consideration as “Old Italian Saying” certifiable.

I sent him my last submission on May 3 when I fired off an email with, “All things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle." His swift reply was, “I believe this will qualify.”

My mentor, employer, business partner, and good friend, James Armand (Jim) Chionsini passed from this life July 21, 2020. If I had a saying to submit to him for an old Italian saying expressing what he meant to me and countless others, it would be, “You don’t get respect, you earn it by giving it to others.”

It’s one he personified with his lifetime of respect, honesty, generosity, and concern for anyone who walked through his door.