Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich -- yes, richer than a king --
And admirably schooled in every grace;
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
The multimillionaire owner of the company I work for went out alone on his sailboat twelve days ago and shot himself in the head. Today I was one of about 900 people who attended his memorial service. The Vice President of the United States and a former CIA director spoke. Reporters and cameras lined the perimeter of the cavernous, columned auditorium.
There were major differences between him and Richard Cory -- in physical appearance, personality, and perception by those who worked for him (think of the opposite of all of those as they pertain to Richard Cory and you'll be close). But I can't help thinking of this poem anyway.
Monday morning, when I read the headline in the paper stating how he'd died (he'd been lost for many days, the cause of his death a mystery until then), I flopped into a chair and exclaimed, "Oh, my God!" to nobody.
It was strange to "mourn" a man who barely knew who I was during my 23 years of off-and-on working for his company. Last summer, at a goodbye party for a colleague who was leaving for a yearlong fellowship, the now-deceased man came over and congratulated me. I said, "Uh, he's over there." At least I can take comfort that one other person in that story was as invisible to him as I was.
He was a successful, rich, loud, profane, impatient, savvy, ambitious, temperamental, bombastic, bullying man who also had a civilized, apparently respectful, and often even warm relationship with a lot of people. He seems to have been a genuinely good father, judging from his children's tributes today (though I'm really glad he wasn't my father).
I realized today that the reason I was one of the relatively few people who worked "with" him but had virtually no relationship with him is that I'm quiet, keep to myself, don't promote myself or my work very much. I'm not a schmoozer, I'm not extroverted, I'm not a gladhander. My job is by nature behind the scenes, and my personality makes it more so -- after all, there are others who do what I do yet who knew and related to him in some fashion.
The more significant realization, though, was that my immediate boss, the layer between me and his boss -- the deceased -- never touted me to him. Never said, "This is [Billy] -- he does X." Or "[Billy], come over here and tell _________ about that project you're working on." Or "[Billy] was responsible for that thing you were talking to me about."
Those of my coworkers who had a relationship with __________ (and there apparently were more of them than I realized) had one, I believe, because they were championed in some way -- even a small way, even a superficial way -- by our immediate boss.
If there was no championing, there was no reason for the Big Boss to even know who you were.
So then why was I lying awake in the middle of the night last night, chilled by the thought of him alone on a vast body of water twelve days ago, putting a shotgun to his head? Why could I not get to sleep, wondering what he had said to his wife before leaving the house on a seemingly routine afternoon sailing jaunt?
What else was I trying to feel? What else was I wishing I could feel?