August 11, 1939—May 22, 2023
In late May of 2023, we lost one of LPK’s founding partners, Jim Gabel. Curious, nurturing and deeply observant, Jim inspired many a creative mind—including co-founder and former LPK President, Jerry Kathman. Reflecting on their first chance meeting—and the decades of partnership that followed—Jerry honors Jim’s enduring legacy.
As I sat down to write a few words about Jim and stared at my blank computer screen, I thought, my Lord, where do I begin? How can I capture the spirit of this delightful and complex guy? I then realized that starting with a blank piece of paper or a blank computer screen and creating something, is exactly what Jim spent over 40 years doing. He always came up with brilliant, beautiful ideas. He always delivered the goods. And so, I began.
I first met Jim and Lola and Kim in London almost 50 years ago….. 50 years ago…… it’s hard to believe that 50 years have passed.
It was the era of “Swinging London”—the time of the Beatles, Mary Quant miniskirts, Carnaby Street fashion, Twiggy and Monty Python. London was the center of a global revolution in music, fashion, culture and design. Jim, with his long dark hair, was in the center of it all and looked the part. He was already a creative force in his young career, having mastered an approach to his craft that he would leverage for the rest of his working years.
I was a young student intern at the place where Jim was working as a top designer. I was alone, on my own, in a world very different from my childhood on the west side of Cincinnati. Jim, Lola and Kim welcomed me into their home in a leafy suburb of London. On Sunday afternoons, they fed me hamburgers … pretty much the only edible food I enjoyed during my entire time in England.
Jim and Lola were a magical couple with an adorable seven-year-old daughter. They all had English accents. One would have never imagined that they too, were from Cincinnati. At the time of my visit, they had already spent years in Brussels and London. For me, they were living a fairytale life, in a lovely home full of English and European paintings and antiques. That early encounter with them helped me decide what I wanted of my life and how I wanted to live. In many ways, Liz and I have emulated the approach to life that they first showed us years ago.
I graduated from design school and took a job in Cincinnati. I got wind of the fact that Jim and Lola and Kim were moving to Cincinnati. I was quite pleased.
Within a year I interviewed at Cato Johnson where Jim was now a creative leader. We were suddenly colleagues again. Another young intern, Liz Grubow, joined the company around that time. Jim and Lola took a liking to her. They were quite pleased to learn that soon Liz and I were dating. She is now my wife of over 40 years. Jim and Lola and Liz and I have since those early days, enjoyed a lifetime of memories together.
In 1983 there was a serious disruption to our working life, which changed everything for all of us. Our small design company was owned by a big conglomerate, Young and Rubicam. Y&R got into a tussle with P&G and suddenly we were in an untenable place. Mort Libby, along with Ray Perszyk, Howard McIlvain, Jim and me, organized a leveraged buyout and we were on our own. Thrilled and terrified but on our own. —
Howard McIlvain, Ray Perszyk, Jerry Kathman, Jim Gabel, Mort Libby
The company has had an exhilarating ride since those early days. This year LPK celebrates its 40th anniversary. Quite a legacy for five guys with just the right balance of fearlessness and naïveté.
In recent years we lost Mort Libby, Ray Perszyk and now Jim. On solemn and sad times like now, we can and should reflect on all the lives we affected positively, all the careers that thrived and the good work we did together at LPK in these last 40 years.
I will finish by simply expressing my gratitude for having crossed paths with Lola and Kim and Jim. Jim fired my curiosity about all manner of things. He modeled the way we should lead our lives, rising to challenges, taking delight in the little things that make up our ordinary days and wondering what delights tomorrow will bring.
Goodbye old pal…