Remembering Bruce Savage – A Tribute to the Industry Advocate, Colleague, Friend

Bruce Savage

Editor’s Note: Manufactured housing professionals this week learned the news that a valued member of the industry has passed away. Bruce Savage, industry communications professional, former MHI executive, is honored by Suzanne Felber, who was fortunate enough to call Mr. Savage a friend.

“[…]the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

-Jack Kerouac, On The Road

This Kerouac quote has always been one of my favorite, and it describes Bruce Savage perfectly. Bruce was one of those people where time stopped the moment you met him, and you never forgot that moment.

Homebuilding has always been part of my life, and I was very active in the National Association of HomeBuilders including being on some of their boards. When I attended the International Builders Show in the late 90’s Champion Homes had a two-story Genesis home complete with a garage that they had built on the show floor. I think that I visited at least four or five times during the show, and when I asked for more information about the industry, they directed me to a booth that the Manufactured Housing Institute had nearby. Kismet stepped in, and there was Bruce Savage manning the booth. As communications director for MHI he was exactly who I wanted to talk to, and he got me excited about the possibilities of factory-built housing. I knew right then and there this was the future of housing, and I wanted to be a part of it. Bruce said that I was welcome to come to DC anytime to learn more, and I was at his doorstep two weeks later.

We got to be friends as well as business associates, and one day I got a call from him about a home that was being donated to a veteran in Houston. MHI was involved, and Patriot Homes had donated the house. Their goal was to turn the home over to the family fully furnished. We helped pull together donations, and in the typical sweltering Texas heat, Heather French, who was at that time Miss America, Bruce, and a lot of other dignitaries, came to the home to turn the keys over to the family. My favorite memory was when Heather gave her crown to the girls to try on for size, and when they were all jumping on the bed they broke the box frame! It was an amazing opportunity for our industry, and by the end, Miss America, who was married to the Lt. Governor of Kentucky, was sold on factory-built housing and the lifestyle we could offer.

Bruce Savage, the Friend

Bruce asked me one year to speak at the MHI Congress and Expo. At that time Bruce was the only person I really knew in the industry, but I couldn’t wait to share what I knew about marketing and design and to learn from others attending. It was at Caesars Palace, and MHI took care of getting me a room. Imagine my surprise when I was given the keys to a suite, complete with dark flocked wallpaper, a Jacuzzi tub for 8-plus friends I didn’t have, and a smoked glass mirror above the bed!

Bruce had a wicked sense of humor, and we laughed about that story together many times.

After Hurricane Katrina, Bruce immediately started positioning our industry to be able to help get people quickly into affordable, well-built homes. The Gulf Coast Housing Initiative gave us the opportunity to show what we could do, and Bruce was right there behind the scenes, setting up national media and getting people inside our homes.

Bruce Savage tribute laughing
Bruce Savage works with media in the introduction of a new home. Photos courtesy of Lisa Stewart, Lisa Stewart Photography.

Bruce also was the publisher for MHI’s Modern Homes Magazine. It was the first publication in our industry that looked and read like a consumer publication. The articles were not only targeted to members of our industry, but to consumers as well, with beautiful photography of our homes. The message was always positive – something that Bruce insisted upon.

It’s hard to find photos of Bruce because he was a true professional. He knew his job was to give the limelight and photo opportunities to others, so the photos I have of him were mostly sneaky ones taken when he wasn’t looking. I feel so fortunate that he shared so much of his life with me that most people never knew about… It was almost like being there, hearing about his years living in New York, part of the art world and having serious conversations with Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Keith Haring, and others, as well as owning some of this art. Being backstage at concerts with the greats, and having carte blanche at the finest restaurants and entertainment venues everywhere he went was the life Bruce lived before moving to D.C. to work for MHI.

After I became the Lifestylist® for Patriot Homes, we got to spend more time on the road, and after his official duties for the day were over we would sneak away, and he would whisk me off to a tiny, hidden restaurant that maybe had five tables. Or the one year at Tunica he told me to get in the car and he just started driving. We ended up at a Rolling Stones concert with VIP passes, enjoyed the concert, and got back before the show opened the next day. No one knew – it was our special time.

Keeping the Passion

After Bruce “retired” to spend more time at the beach, we would talk a lot about the negativity that had crept into the inner circles of our industry, that was leaking out to consumers. We decided to be proactive, and started American Housing Advocates as a way for him to stay active in the industry, and for us to share the positive news about factory-built housing. There were so many good things happening, it didn’t make sense to focus on anything else.

The past year, Bruce has been living at a retirement community recuperating from falling down a flight of stairs at his beach house and breaking his hip, and many other bones. When he was at the hospital someone stole his phone that had all of his phone numbers in it, and his wedding ring. When I was finally able to find him we caught up, and as always we didn’t talk about how much pain he was in, he insisted on sharing stories about the ladies in the community who were trying to “court” him, and we chatted about new films that were coming out, and what art exhibits I had been to.

Bruce was so ahead of his time in how he approached the industry, and how he was able to make others understand that vision. The Urban Infill Project, Homes for Homeless Veterans, and the Mills of Carthage are just a few of the ways he was able to see the future of factory-built housing before most of us did.

MHI events will never be the same without him there, but I know when we are able to all attend another manufactured housing industry event, I’ll be thinking about him being the puppet master behind the curtains, writing beautifully worded speeches, and making all of us all smile just one more time.