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Ray Duckler: Supporting Demoulas, the super CEO of a supermarket chain

  • Kalahan Emery, the son that Kraig lost

    Kalahan Emery, the son that Kraig lost

  • Kraig Emery stands by a sign marking a train in his son's honor at Carter Hill Orchards in Concord. Emery was impressed with Arthur T.' compassion after losing his son.

    Kraig Emery stands by a sign marking a train in his son's honor at Carter Hill Orchards in Concord. Emery was impressed with Arthur T.' compassion after losing his son.

  • Kraig Emery stands by a sign marking a train in his son's honor at Carter Hill Orchards in Concord. Emery was impressed with Arthur T.' compassion after losing his son.

    Kraig Emery stands by a sign marking a train in his son's honor at Carter Hill Orchards in Concord. Emery was impressed with Arthur T.' compassion after losing his son.

  • Market Basket Days, with longtime friend Rick, also a former employee. We actually met there when he was at the tech and I was 16. Lifelong friends at this point. He was 19 when this was taken. <br/>Kraig is on the right.

    Market Basket Days, with longtime friend Rick, also a former employee. We actually met there when he was at the tech and I was 16. Lifelong friends at this point. He was 19 when this was taken.
    Kraig is on the right.

  • Kalahan Emery, the son that Kraig lost
  • Kraig Emery stands by a sign marking a train in his son's honor at Carter Hill Orchards in Concord. Emery was impressed with Arthur T.' compassion after losing his son.
  • Kraig Emery stands by a sign marking a train in his son's honor at Carter Hill Orchards in Concord. Emery was impressed with Arthur T.' compassion after losing his son.
  • Market Basket Days, with longtime friend Rick, also a former employee. We actually met there when he was at the tech and I was 16. Lifelong friends at this point. He was 19 when this was taken. <br/>Kraig is on the right.

Kraig Emery, who once stocked shelves for the grocery giant that’s all over the news these days, never expected any of it.

Not the phone calls, not the free catering, certainly not the loyalty and concern that extended for years.

His former boss, Arthur T. Demoulas, the recently ousted CEO of Market Basket, the guy with more money than some small countries, reached out after Emery’s 2½-year-old son, Kalahan, died in 2001.

So now, with Market Basket and the Demoulas family in the headlines, Emery, like thousands of other past and present employees of the New England supermarket chain, is jumping out front to support the man who once made him feel important.

“This guy is running a multibillion-dollar company and he’s telling me I matter,” said Emery, who lives in Boscawen. “He doesn’t have to do that. He’s got plenty of fish to fry.”

Voices like Emery’s just keep coming, growing like the grocery empire that the man they admire helped build. They’re carrying signs and protesting in support of Demoulas, at the two Market Basket branches in Concord, where Emery got his start in the workforce, and at the stores in Tilton and Hooksett and Manchester and beyond.

The Hatfields and McCoys had nothing on this feud. Demoulas was fired last month by the company’s board of directors, led by his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, who reportedly thought his CEO was spending money recklessly.

The images that have formed are that of the greedy corporate devils, the S.-led

board, who care only with lining their own pockets, and the man of the people, T., who wants to provide health care and competitive wages for his employees, and low prices for his customers.

“I was making more money than my dad was when I was 17,” Emery said. “I was on the night crew during the weekend.”

Emery works in law enforcement now. He graduated from Merrimack Valley High School and says he grew up in “humble beginnings.” His father worked for Weeks Dairy.

He’d been forced to grow up fast, fathering three children by time he turned 21. He moved up the food chain at Market Basket, stocking shelves at the Fort Eddy Road branch in Concord at age 14, moving to the Storrs Street branch eight years later as assistant grocery manager and head cashier, and then transferring to the Market Basket in Salem.

There, Emery says, he began to understand who this man was, after Demoulas stopped in to the store to check on his staff. He described a slender individual with crisp, expensive-looking suits, who’d climb from the back of a limo before releasing his down-to-earth style.

“Kind of like watching the godfather,” Emery said. “Someone would pull up and people would go out with their Windex and wash his windows. It was respect. It wasn’t that he was untouchable, it was just so much respect that you’re almost in awe of the man when he walked in.”

Emery’s life changed on March 11, 2001, when 2½-year-old Kalahan died of Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood.

Kalahan had red hair, wide eyes and a smile that made everyone near him smile. He liked watching Toy Story, hiking with his dad, playing games and pointing at things he didn’t quite understand, like dragonflies. In fact, his nickname was Dragonfly.

On that cold, snowy late-winter afternoon 13 years ago, Kalahan took a nap and never woke up. The mysterious illness refers to the death of a child older than 12 months. “Shock,” Emery said. “Then we were numb.”

A year later, Emery left Market Basket to pursue other interests. He started a foundation to raise money and awareness for SUDC research.

He spoke about Kalahan as a guest on Imus in the Morning, along with one of his daughters, and the two visited the Imus Ranch in New Mexico, which caters to sick children and their families.

And, he learned about a grocery store giant whose heart is as big as his wallet.

“It’s almost like the most important person has just walked into the room, and everyone knows it except for him,” Emery said. “Good people are just good people.”

The goodwill, Emery said, is chainwide, its tone set from the top. That’s why dozens of Market Basket workers showed up at Kalahan’s wake in Concord on that awful day in 2001, bused in from Salem on Demoulas’s dime.

“The first people who came through the door were associates from the Salem Market Basket,” Emery said. “Then one after another after another came in. I found out later that a bus was hired by Market Basket to shuttle people from Salem to Concord. I found out he didn’t want credit for it.”

A few days later, Emery went to Market Basket to pick up deli platters for the post-wake gathering. His money was no good there.

“Fill whatever carriages you need and do what you need to do,” Emery said the manager told him.

“They would not take no for an answer,” Emery says.

In the years following Kalahan’s death, Emery said Demoulas and his wife called him now and then, checking on his spirits, lending him support.

The last time was about four years after Kalahan’s death, while Emery worked as a manager at the Racquet Club of Concord. He switched the call from the front desk to a private office, shocked at who was on the other end.

“He said he heard I’d started a foundation for my son,” Emery said. “He said he was proud of me and he wished me luck in my endeavors.

“So what I’d like to say is I’m proud of him,” Emery continued, “and I wish him luck in his endeavors, too.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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