The People You Meet and the People You Keep

Yesterday, I attended a memorial service for a man who I worked with closely during my career when I was at my longest-term employer where I worked for 20 years. I had grown close to this gentleman during our 20-years of collaboration on dozens, if not hundreds, of joint projects used nationwide by millions.

During the years we worked together, we…

…had not only a professional relationship where we would meet together often, but we also formed a deep friendship. This man was exceptionally well-read and knew something about everything. He would often cite research and provide a foundation/background on whatever projects we worked on.

Sometimes this man absolutely exasperated me when he rambled on and on. Somewhere in there, he had a point. I often identified those gems and summarized for the group with whom we were meeting. I was often viewed as this gentlemen’s “summarizer” and a professional alter ego.

My friend was very spiritual, and his firm belief in God directed his work, which was solid, professional, and highly ethical. I learned a lot about work ethics by observing and working with him.

Our friendship was an odd one, because he was 29 years older than me and from the generation of my parents. His values were similar to my own, yet the methods we went about doing things was vastly different. I think, though, that’s why we formed a great team — he would pontificate the theory, and I would turn it into action. We both would benefit.

In 1997 when I needed two unrelated people to stand with me in court and testify as to my character (not for criminal proceedings, but for a major civil situation)… this friend was right there by my side (as was a county elected official also with whom I was close.)

But as things happen in the working world, I left my job in 2004 and though I occasionally would see my old friend when we would see each other at conferences, it wasn’t the same as when I would speak with him almost daily.

I moved on in my life, got another job, got busy, and rebirthed my life in new ways, cutting some ties with my old job, including some old professional colleagues.

I regret that the last time I recall having a significant conversation with my old friend was about ten years ago.

Attending his memorial service yesterday was particularly poignant. I was grieving for my friend and his family, but also was ashamed in myself for not keeping contact with my friend. He lived in my home county. I could have visited, but I didn’t. I have reasons for not doing so, but those excuses are weak.

So imagine how I felt when his daughter found me and reached out to ask me to attend the memorial, and “speak a few words of remembrance.” She said, “Dad always talked about you and how fondly he thought about you.”

Man, how much worse could I feel with regret?

I gathered my courage and went to the service, which was at a funeral home. The service was really awful with bad singing of long, mournful hymns that I did not recognize.

Speakers before me knew my friend from his church activities, so that is what they talked about. But their expressions of memories were quite sad and left us feeling rather down.

When it was my turn to talk about my friend’s professional side, I decided “enough of this sad stuff; let’s lighten things up.” So I talked about my friend and how he behaved at meetings. How people would get frustrated by his hour-long rambling on one little point. How he would cite research, including title, year of publication, and all authors — from memory!

How he would take the opposite side of any debate, because he would often say that you really couldn’t know an issue well unless you could debate it from the other side. That remark alone brought a twitter of laughter, because it was so true! Everyone had a story about my friend and how he did that.

I also shared how he stood with me as a character witness, when he didn’t have to, and when I probably could have found others to do that for me. But he always was a man with such deep respect, that his words of support resonated higher than any other.

By sharing these memories with my friend’s family and assembled guests, this was my way to grieve the loss I felt by losing touch with my friend and letting our friendship go. Last night, I made a list of some other friends with whom I once worked and also with whom I have lost touch and plan to reach out and try to rekindle our friendship.

You know, it’s sad when life does this and we let it happen. We get busy with our lives, families, spouse, children, grands & greats and don’t often remember who contributed to what made you the person you are today. So I have vowed to change that as I can.

Life is short: remember and keep in touch with those who have influenced your life in positive ways.