WC met Paul Gavora in the Northland Hub bankruptcy.1 WC represented the Unsecured Creditors Committee. The committee wanted its members paid. Gavora wanted out. It was not a happy situation.
In a business reorganization bankruptcy, in this case a Chapter 11, the unsecured creditors are permitted to organize and have a collective voice in how the bankrupt company is going to pay its bills. They even get to hire an attorney, whose fees are paid by the debtor, the broke company. Gavora, after sacking Dave Kilbourn, was the principal representative of the insolvent whole grocer. WC was the attorney for the unsecured creditors. Gavora was unhappy that he was paying WC to argue with him.
But here’s the reason to raise this old case: throughout hours of negotiations, arguments, court hearings and telephone calls, Gavora never once lied to or misled WC or the members of the unsecured creditors committee. He never fudged the numbers. He never made excuses. He wasn’t pleased about the situation, and sometimes his temper would get the better of him, but he never lied.
And that foundation of truth led to a confirmed plan of reorganization that got the unsecured creditors every possible dime – not payment in full; that doesn’t happen often in bankruptcy – but some payment at least.
Paul Gavora died earlier this month. Like any businessman, he had his successes and his failures, but on the whole, Gavora was successful. Market Basket, his line of grocery stores, is no more, but there are still buildings in Fairbanks named after him, and he made enough money to become a significant philanthropist in Interior Alaska. It was quite an achievement for a man who arrived in the United States penniless. He was proud of it, and could tell harrowing stories of his time in Europe. His obituary describes him as a “doer and not a talker” but what WC remembers most vividly about Gavora is his stories.
Gavora had a significant impact on Interior Alaska. You buy your groceries in buildings he built. As a member of the Judicial Council, he helped select the judges that served Alaska and decided much of its seminal case law. He served on the board of nonprofits and banks, public corporations and private schools. WC represented some of those organizations, and can tell you Gavora took the work seriously kept himself informed and involved, and, if he had something he thought was important, wasn’t shy about offering it.
And his life is an object lesson for anyone who wants to talk about immigration policy: he arrived in America a penniless refugee from violence in Eastern Europe – probably from what President Trump would call a “shit-hole country” – yet got a master’s degree in economics, pioneered businesses in Alaska and made himself a millionaire many times over. Ironically, Gavora was an ardent Republican.
WC’s sympathies to Alex, Dan and Rudy and the rest of the family. The loss of their mother and father in just over a year has to be hard. But they can be proud, too. Paul Gavora was smart, hard-working and scrupulously honest. He will be missed.
R.I.P. Vladimir Paul Gavora, 1931-2018.
- Technically, WC knew Paul Gavora much earlier, when he was the milkman for Creamer’s Dairy, who delivered milk to WC’s family’s rental in Lemeta Subdivision. WC was 9 or 10 years old. Doesn’t count. ↩