CEO suicide leaves cafeteria company coping with tragedy again
Mar. 20, 1997
SAN ANTONIO (AP) _ Publicly, John E. Curtis Jr. was upbeat about his new position as chief executive officer of Luby's Cafeterias Inc. and the company's impending growth.
Privately, Curtis was a worried man.
By last Thursday, distress over the chain's economic problems apparently overtook him in the drab confines of a Motel 6 room. After leaving a note for his wife, he cut his throat, investigators said.
``I think we are all still in a state of shock,'' said Ralph ``Pete'' Erben, Curtis' predecessor as CEO. ``We loved him and we will miss him.''
Curtis' death left Luby's employees in mourning and led to an abrupt shuffling this week of upper management. Most of all, it left friends and relatives trying to understand why the 49-year-old executive would resort to such a drastic measure.
It isn't the first horrifying episode to strike Luby's, a San Antonio-based company known for home-style cooking and family-oriented dining rooms.
In October 1991, a gunman drove his truck into a Luby's cafeteria in Killeen and opened fire, killing 23 people, then himself in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
Erben, who resigned as CEO in January, met with Curtis almost daily but had no idea how despondent he had become about the company's financial performance. Curtis was nervous, Erben said, but the problems they discussed, including disappointing quarterly earnings, didn't seem extraordinary.
``The demands are always there in corporate life,'' Erben said. ``I told him, `Just blame everything on me, and just think how good you'll look next year.'''
Second-quarter earnings released Monday showed profits of $8.4 million, or 36 cents per share, a decline from $9.32 million, or 40 cents per share, from the same period last year.
Published reports have quoted police as saying Curtis, an 18-year veteran, feared Luby's would not meets its expansion goals and might have to close restaurants. Luby's, now operates more than 220 cafeterias in 11 states.
Company spokeswoman Karen Sparks said Wednesday there are no plans for cafeteria closings. ``As a matter of fact, we're expanding,'' she said.
On Tuesday, scores of Luby's employees joined Curtis' family at a private memorial. They listened to audio tapes on which the family had recorded remembrances of him.
``He loved me well, and his children. He was a good man, a godly man,'' Kathi Curtis said in a statement issued through Luby's.
``Behind every storm there's sunshine,'' a tearful Erben said afterward. ``I trust there will be.''