December 22, 2004 in Business

‘Work’ friends can add to our lives

Tim Mcguire United Feature Syndicate
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If my use of statistics can be trusted, I’d say some 6,600 people died in the United States on Oct. 26, 2004. Among those many deaths that day, one touched me deeply. That one death made me feel incredibly guilty and reinforced a hard lesson.

This summer I ran into a dear friend of Dick Broeker’s. I had laughed and shared much with Dick over the years, but I had fallen out of touch. He had the good grace to travel many miles to my retirement party in 2002. The rush of well-wishers meant I spent little time with Dick and his wife, Mary. I regretted that. The mutual friend sent my e-mail address to Dick, and he sent his address to me. I did not immediately respond.

Several weeks went by and I distinctly remember in mid-October thinking to myself, I need to get in touch with Dick and make sure he’s doing well.

On the evening of Oct. 26, I opened my e-mails to find a note from Dick’s e-mail address. It was from his son Tim informing everybody in Dick’s address book that his father had died that morning of a sudden, completely unexpected heart attack.

At 62, Dick was too young to die, and the world will be less for his passing. It would be hard to label Dick. Activist and public servant are as close as I can come. He was running a gubernatorial campaign when I met him and he called to criticize my newspaper. A wonderful friendship grew from that complaint. His incredible intellect, his quick humor and his passion for causes, great and small, will be sorely missed. Like all of us, Dick struggled with his own frailties, but he did it with a good cheer and instructiveness that made people around him better. Despite the fact that we had not kept a lot of company in recent years, he’d number among the top 20 people who have most affected me.

And I never told Dick any of that. My first reaction to his son’s e-mail was abject foolishness and dismay. Why had I delayed contacting him? Why hadn’t I reacted to my warm feelings and reached out to rekindle our relationship? I berated myself for missing that chance. I shamefully admit that for a few hours I thought more about that failure than I did Dick’s tragic death.

At this time of year when so many faith traditions celebrate holidays of care and giving, it’s especially appropriate to dwell on the hard-earned lesson Dick Broeker’s death hammered home to me: We cannot delay telling people how important they are to us because we know neither the time nor place this wonderful life will end.

Some of us make a point to frequently tell our loved ones how important they are to us, but it is far more difficult to take time in the workplace to thank the people we count on, or to tell people how important they are to us.

So many of us try to retain such a tough, unsentimental exterior at work that we fail to acknowledge the mentors who have guided us, or the people who lend us a sympathetic ear, or even the people who patiently tolerate our failures and weaknesses.

We don’t often take the time to thank those people or even acknowledge their role in our lives. And worse, sometimes we focus on our minor differences with those valued folks rather than appreciating their contributions in the larger picture.

I often say that we should constantly be conscious of what people would say about us in eulogies at the time of our death. But it is just as important for us to think about what we would say about people close to us at their funerals. If we haven’t told them that we would be effusive in our praise and deeply grateful for their role in our lives, we ought to get to that immediately.

It is no fun to realize you missed a chance as I did with Dick Broeker.

Tip for your search: Just do it. Think of three people in your work life past or present who have been a blessing. Tell them that and be specific about why they have been important to you. It will be satisfying and rewarding for them and for you.

Resource for your search: “Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope for the Future,” by Margaret J. Wheatley (Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc., 2002)

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