An Immigrant Success Story Ends In Tragedy

A Personal Perspective

Anybody who has ever eaten a Golden Krust patty or any other product from the ubiquitous eatery’s list of delicacies or seen the company CEO’s smiling face in news articles or on MTA buses has been in shock and disbelief ever since it was reported on Saturday night that he had taken his own life.

Lowell Hawthorne came to New York City from his native Jamaica West Indies at the age of 21. Like so many immigrants, Hawthorne came here with a fire burning in his belly to make something of himself in the “land of opportunity.”

Using old family recipes from “back home,” Hawthorne opened the first Golden Krust on East Gunhill Road in the Bronx in 1989. In the ensuing years, the entrepreneur, who hired mostly family for the business, grew that one original site to more than 200 across the United States—at least eight of which are based in Southeast Queens.

The popular patty shop made Lowell Hawthorne a household name in the Jamaican Diaspora and everyone was surprised and delighted to see him featured on an episode of the TV show Undercover Boss in 2016.

The concept of the show, for anyone who has never seen it, is that the CEO of a business chain goes undercover as a contestant. The CEO then “befriends” employees assigned to train him or her and, in doing so, learns more about the company and employee.

As an immigrant, Hawthorne was living the American dream—or, so it seemed until he shot himself in the head in his factory. He was known as a philanthropist from New York to his homeland of Jamaica. Suicide was the last thing anyone would have expected of him.

Indeed, Prime Minister Andrew Holness tweeted his shock and condolences on behalf of the nation following the news.

Suicide is always shocking and confusing. Hawthorne’s method of suicide made it even more so. Why he did it, we may never really know. News reports said that he was deep in debt to the IRS and being sued by a disgruntled ex-employee.

Neither situation warrants taking your own life. Instead, hire a good lawyer to handle the IRS matter and settle with the employee. Ironically, Hawthorne is an accountant by profession and his son, who is part of the business, is an attorney.

Everyone makes mistakes. At age 57, Hawthorne was in the prime of his life. His “old world” work ethic and supportive family had made it possible for his success story. This was no way for it to end.

His decision to check out early has tarnished the legacy that he had worked so hard to build. Or perhaps, it was more than fear of the tax man that drove him to that dreadful act. Sometimes, people suffer in silence from diagnosed or undiagnosed illnesses that impact their state of mind.

For all we know, he could have suffered from chronic depression. That contagious smile may have masked untold emotional pain. We may never know the real reason nor the full scope of what that man was enduring.

Whatever it was that led to that decision of existential destruction, Lowell Hawthorne’s ending is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. The saying, “This too shall pass,” has become a cliché, but it really is a valuable one to contemplate when life gets complicated.

There are none amongst us who has not had anxious moments and situations that seem hopeless. But if we hold on, they usually get resolved. People of faith also find solace there. If only Hawthorne had held on.

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