I wish I knew Michael O’Connor Clark better.
I joined Twist Image in 2002. The company already existed… sort of. Two of my business partners (Aubrey and Mick) were here (Mark joined us a couple of years after me). There were a couple of employees and – like every other marketing services agency – we took on whatever opportunity was thrown our way to pay the bills. It was everything from logo and business card design to websites and interactive demos. At this point, social media was nascent. It was more of a publishing platform than an engine of marketing. Still, there were enough marketing bloggers (or people dabbling in the comment section) that a strong and passionate community was evolving. As we tried to grow the business, I found myself on more and more business trips to Toronto. As a way to avoid the loneliness of sitting in a hotel room and ordering room service, I devised a "Geek Dinner." In short, they were dinners. No pressure. No stress. No agenda. I would pick a time and place and whoever wanted to come was more than welcome. Some of those early attendees are still acquaintances and friends. Michael O’Connor Clark was one of the early adopters.
What to make of Michael?
With his English accent and passion for anything related to The Cluetrain Manifesto, Michael believed that marketing and communications (and everything in between) was in the middle of flux. That things were going to change. We shared this deep desire to help the marketing and communications industry make this change. It’s something I still believe in (and he did as well). On one of those Toronto trips, we wound up heading out to a tech meet-up, where I was exposed to the grit of the Toronto tech community. The true spirit of startups. Held on a university campus, individuals and groups of people would spend fifteen minutes demoing the cool stuff that they were working on. It was enlightening and educational. You could feel that you were part of a movement… something much bigger. Over those next few years, social media took hold. Bloggers became media entities and it truly was a golden age. As we sat in one of these university auditoriums, I remember turning to Michael and saying, "I wonder if this is what it felt like to be at Woodstock?" He nodded his head, looked me in the eyes and just smiled.
It was better than Woodstock… because it kept going and going.
Over the next few years, Michael and I would cross paths. Be it at PodCamp or another unconference, sharing the stage at an event, debating in the comment section of a blog or whatever. On top of that, when you follow people you like, admire and respect in the online channels (blogs, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, whatever), you get the feeling like they are always in your life. Like you always know what’s going on in their world via their updates and feeds. While it’s just an avatar, you really do get the sense like you are seeing and interacting with them (even if all you’re doing is creeping on their content). Michael was always in my feed. Day in and day out.
Light The Night.
It has been two years that I have been taking part in the Light The Night walk to help put an end to leukemia (you can read more about that here: Fighting Cancer… Again). Last week, we had the walk. It was a tremendous event. With your help and support, I shattered my personal goal of raising $2000 and raised close to $13,000. Our team (Leah’s Helpers) shattered our collective goal of $50,000 and helped raise over $65,000. On top of that, we were told that we were the number one group in Canada… of all time. Right before the walk, I started seeing some very concerning tweets about Michael O’Connor Clark. Through his own tweets and Facebook updates, I knew he was sick with esophogal cancer for a several months. I knew it was hard battle for him. We are similar in age, we both have young families and I could hardly stomach the thought of him fighting for his life in a hospital ward, as his young family had to both lay witness to his struggle and keep a semblance of normalcy in their home life. Michael was using Twitter and Facebook during these very difficult times to communicate. He kept at it. It was probably part distraction and part therapeutic. As an acquaintance of Michael’s, it was often difficult to follow. It was just too sad and a reminder of how fragile we are.
Last Saturday night.
As I prepared to walk in honor and celebration of Leah (a very brave young girl who is fortunate that her cancer is in remission), I had Michael in my thoughts. By Sunday afternoon, I started seeing the tribute tweets, Facebook status updates and blog posts celebrating the life of Michael O’Connor Clark. He was gone. He needed to rest. I could not stop thinking about his family and what his wife, children and parents are all going through. A tragic loss for the marketing and communications industry? Without a doubt. Still, nothing compared to what his family has to endure every morning and every night. Death is the one thing that we all have in common. You can be a genius, a billionaire, a famous celebrity, a teacher, a nurse, a criminal, a homeless person, we come into this world and leave the exact same way: with nothing. Sorry if I am bumming you out, but it’s true. And, when I think about it, I’m bothered by the fact that I didn’t make more of an effort to get to know Michael better. To know his family. To be there for him. Still (and strangely), I feel like I was right there with him… by his side, because he was sharing his story – each and every day. Don’t kid yourself, social media, the Internet and all of this connectedness is an amazing gift. Sadly, too many of us take it for granted or use it for negative things.
We shouldn’t. Michael O’Connor Clark would want us to use these channels to tell our stories. Just like he did.
Thanks for the reminder, Michael.
If you want to help out Michael’s family, please visit this page: Support Michael O’Connor Clark.