Tomorrow is Here for Silvex’s Dan Atkinson

Dan Atkinson had always planned to go to Hawaii and Yosemite, and even skydive, but it was always tomorrow that he would plan for it. After battling cancer, Maine electroplater is learning to live life.
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Dan Atkinson had always planned to go to Hawaii and Yosemite, and even skydive, but it was always tomorrow that he would plan for it.

Today he was too busy electroplating and anodizing at Silvex, his family’s company in Westbrook, Maine. Orders needed to get out the door, customers needed to be tended to and those tax statements weren’t going to complete themselves.

Dan was always on the go, along with his brother-in-law, Phil Ridley, who was Silvex’s president. The second generation family-owned company has served manufacturers for more than 50 years. 

As the name implies, Silvex specializes in silver and platinum coatings, but they are certified in a variety of finishes processed to ISO 9001:2000, Nadcap, AS91000 and other standards for the defense, aerospace, power generation, hotel ware, firearms and medical industries.

For the past two years, Silvex has been on the Products Finishing Top Shops list, a tribute to what Dan says is a great staff, just as devoted to the company as its owners. “We are very fortunate to have these great people here,” Atkinson says. “Whatever we earn is because of them.”

But back to Dan, 54, who had always talked to friends and family about taking a break and seeing the U.S., do some things he and his wife always wanted to do. Tomorrow he would plan for it. Today, he was busy.

But tomorrow came for Dan in February of 2014, when a visit to his doctor to check on his nagging acid reflux resulted in his doctor setting him down for some unsettling news: he found cancer in Dan’s esophagus.

“Just wow,” Dan says of his reaction. “You think you are indestructible. You think tomorrow is guaranteed, and then they sit you down and tell you how it is. I was scared.”

His first thought was family; how his wife would handle the news, how his grown children would react, and he wondered if he would ever see his newborn granddaughter grow up.

“I was pretty attached to that little girl, and that’s what hit me the most,” Dan says. “It’s life altering. You start thinking of all the things you are going to miss because you won’t be around.”

The doctors assured him they could treat the disease and help him beat it. They started by removing parts of his esophagus and his stomach, making sure to take enough margins to get it all, but to leave him still functioning.

Dan was also hesitant to let a lot of family, friends, co-workers and even customers know what was going on until the last minute. At Silvex, a lot of people relied on him for guidance and support, including many long-time customers. And typical of most shop owners, Dan wasn’t that good at delegating, instead wanting to have a hand in most decisions and customer contacts.

“The best thing was that Phil and I had already been talking about succession plans,” he says. “My son had been with us for about six years, so we were already looking to bring other leaders into the mix to share some of the responsibilities. But you just never know how some customers will react to you being gone for so long.”

Dan recuperated and is now in remission. But with some of his stomach removed, he had to relearn to eat—five or six smaller meals rather than three large ones. He quickly lost 60 pounds, and the weight loss made him more mobile and gave him more energy. When he got back on his feet, Dan decided to carve out more time for the things he wanted to do. 

He now spends more time with friends. He plays golf whenever he feels like it. He and his wife are on a trek to visit beautiful parts of the U.S., which he recently did at the Sur/Fin show in Las Vegas when they rented a convertible and drove to Zion and Bryce national parks in Utah.

Dan has also made a bucket list, and one of the items was skydiving, which he also did in Vegas. He signed up without telling his wife and surprised her when they pulled into the airport lot. He spent 20 minutes training and then boarded the plane for his tandem jump, which went flawlessly.

“My wife was on the ground watching,” Dan says. “And praying for all of us.”

Dan laughs when he says that business at Silvex grew while he was recuperating, and he attributes that to the staff who stepped up and ran the show while he was ailing. Now, he says, he knows he can rely even more on them, and he can balance his work and home life a little better.

“There are a lot of shop owners out there like me who put things off until tomorrow,” he says. “I would just say to them, don’t wait. Live life to the fullest, be with family and friends, and enjoy. You can’t take things with you when you are gone.”  


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