November 1, 2004
Helzberg's Comment Dead at 60
Jeffrey Comment, the Helzberg Diamonds CEO who made sick children's holidays sparkle, died Oct. 30. He was 60. Comment, who had been gearing up for his tenth year of touring pediatric hospitals as Santa Claus, died after collapsing during a private party at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, MO, according to the Kansas City Business Journal.
"I just saw him last Thursday, and he was the same well-dressed, bright-eyed person I'd always known him to be," said a stunned Pete Levi, president of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. Levi described Comment as "a person full of vitality, vigor, great ideas and high energy."
Also known for his marketing acumen, Comment helped guide Helzberg's growth into one of the largest national jewelry chains. Founded in 1915, the Kansas City company now operates more than 250 stores in 35 states. Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. bought the company in 1995.
That also was the year Comment got talked into playing Santa at Helzberg's Christmas party an event that spurred his annual two-week cross-country tours as Santa. During the company party, Comment was moved by a group of abused children who had been invited. As the children told their sad stories, Comment told them that Santa loved them.
The Helzberg marketing department, also moved by the party, subsequently suggested Comment take his Santa act to children's hospitals in cities where Helzberg had stores, as a way of giving back to the communities.
When Buffett learned about the Santa tour, he asked Comment how he could leave during the holiday season, when Helzberg Diamonds earns 40% of its profits. Comment told him that if the company wasn't prepared for the holidays by the time his annual tours began, then he wasn't doing his job.
Buffett became a supporter of the annual Santa trips and was among several luminaries whom Comment convinced to share personal stories of philanthropy for the book Santa's Gift: True Stories of Courage, Humor, Hope and Love. All profits from the book, available at amazon.com, are donated to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
In 1987, the Helzberg Diamonds Web site states, "the company's leadership was strengthened by the selection of Jeffrey W. Comment, a maverick retailer of national prominence, to serve as president."
With Comment at the helm, Helzberg Diamonds launched the concept of the Helzberg value tag, which became the cornerstone of the company's marketing strategy. Comment also guided the company through a period a unprecedented new-store growth during the 1990s, when the company's new free-standing superstore format was added to its long-standing mall jewelry store concept.