Anonymous yet personal, this Blog chronicles
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Chapel Hill, NC, United States

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

About my friend Lou

To follow up on my previous post, my good friend Lou died on January 3rd of this year. I was invited by his family to speak at his memorial service on 1/19/08, and the text below is excerpted and adapted from my prepared remarks...

...I had been in contact with Lou by email just recently, and we were about to schedule a lunch or dinner meeting to just talk and get caught up on things. But over the past years, he and I had communicated often by email. I knew that he was finally retiring and was looking forward to spending more time with his family and playing on his prized Steinway.

I first met Lou in August of 1993, where he designed and taught a three-month comprehensive Novell training course for a now defunct company in Waltham. He was an amazing teacher, and he had an in-depth grasp of the subject-matter and an innate ability to communicate it. It was one of the best organized and run classes I've even taken. Over time, we stayed in touch, and Lou brought me to the investment house Scudder, Stevens and Clark to work on his team. Lou's technical and interpersonal skills were immediately evident to senior management. Not only did I have the best time of my life working under him, I learned volumes about what a manager should be, and what professionalism is.

One day he asked me fill out an evaluation of him that was related to a Steven R. Covey Leadership and Management program he was taking. I was amazed that on every single evaluation point - from time management, to communication, to ethics - he got my highest rating. He was exemplary, to the point where I almost wondered if he had any faults at all.

The powers at Scudder knew that they had a live one in Lou. While not born into the same social class as them, he was such an expert communicator, clear thinker, and natural leader, that he in affect rose to the top of the company's hierarchy in no time. He had an ability to defuse tense situations, and the skills to mediate between warring parties. He transcended the entrenched corporate culture to work effectively with everyone - at all ends of the spectrum.

At one point management offered him the position of "Chief Technical Strategist" which essentially would have put him in the technical driver's seat for this enormous international company. He declined that offer, feeling that it would not allow him to build and nurture his hand-picked team.

Working in both stressful and relaxed situations for a long time with an individual, such as I did with Lou, allows one to see a person's character. Lou had plenty of it. I'm not understating myself when I say that Lou became my mentor. He was about 10 years my senior, so this was a natural, almost "big brother" role. I learned much from him about how to deal with a complex and changing world, and to balance work-life with one's personal and family obligations and aspirations. For example when I missed a day of work because of back trouble, he immediately made time to call to see how I was doing.

Of course we discussed and explored any and every subject of interest – including, but not limited to - technical concerns. On many occasions (post Scudder) several of us would meet at Bertucci's (our regular hangout) for dinner and to engage in a free-ranging soirĂ©e. We'd have these incredible, long-winded, and in-depth discussions about music, philosophy, politics, education, micro and macro economics, cyberspace, and culture that were simply mind-blowing. Whatever subject came up, Lou not only had a well-thought out position, but had done his research and conveyed his thoughts with an erudite elegance that one could simply not argue with.

When the topic turned to sports, I had to concede my ignorance, but it was clear that Lou was not an amateur in that arena either.

A life-long commitment to self-education was another one of Lou's trademarks. After an exchange of some fascinating email regarding late Stravinsky, I was impressed with how informed he was on the subject (I did my doctoral studies in music composition at Brandeis). After inquiring how he had learned so much about the topic, he replied that he had taken an audio course while driving in his car. It was yet another example of his using time efficiently. Lou was a good model for how one should structure and utilize one's resources efficiently and to good use.

He also read profusely, and enjoyed history in particular. His experience as a jazz musician was yet another communality between us. Lou's writing skills were just as sharp as his verbal skills. From corporate to personal communications and to the technical book he wrote but never got published - he had a gift for words.

Recently, Lou volunteered to serve on the IT Advisory Board for the college that I work at. His contributions were extremely insightful, and everyone was elevated by his intelligence and dedication.

Whenever I needed encouragement, advice, or just plain help, I would pick up the phone and give Lou a call, or fire off an email. The response was both immediate and valuable.

Just the other day Lou had kindly offered to help me by being available as an employment reference.

There are probably only a handful of people I have met over the course of my life that have impressed me as much as Lou did. I had nothing but the utmost respect for him, and came to rely on his caring and persistent nature.

It is sad to know that a diabetes-related heart attack prevented him from living longer than he should have, but the wide and dramatic impact that he made on the world is far more than most people can hope for. We are all enriched by the time we had with him.

Going forward, I feel privileged to have been associated with Lou, and I will take those fond memories and wonderful lessons with me into the future.