Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Remembering Jeremy

In spite of knowing it was coming, no one is prepared for the news of the death of a close friend.  Jeremy Geelan succumbed to pancreatic cancer on April 12 on the eve of his 59th birthday after a five year struggle fought with dignity and courage.  He was the middle son of my close colleague, Peter Geelan, who also died of cancer, when he was 63. 

In his short 59 years Jeremy lived at least two lifetimes.  He was a person with titanic energy and vision.  With his wife Kirsten, his constant soul mate, they raised four beautiful children, Torsten, Sebastian, Christian and Anne-Sofie.  He loved them deeply and our hearts go out to them, and to Jeremy's brothers, Michael and Christopher.

Jeremy flourished in the world of the future, and I worked with him copublishing his “very” 20th century printed book program in the 1990s.  It met with modest success but that was only because it was before its time.  The Internet’s rise corresponded with Jeremy’s business metamorphosis, going way beyond the printed word, becoming the guru of the “Internet of Things.”  Kirsten too was having a challenging professional life representing Denmark as an Ambassador to a number of countries, most recently Nepal (and thus Jeremy’s love of Katmandu). 

On his LinkedIn profile Jeremy describes himself as being “British by birth, upbeat by nature, intercontinental commuter by choice, anthropologist and exponent of Internet co-technologies by trade.”  I can testify to the veracity of those words, each and every one of them, particularly his temperament which was always so optimistic that I sometimes wondered whether he was acquainted with the real world.   But visionaries are that way.  If nothing is impossible, well nothing is.

When his terrible illness was diagnosed five years ago, Jeremy seized Whipple surgery --a literally gut-retching procedure, with a long, difficult recovery.  Right afterward he wrote to me unchecked, pancreatic cancer is quite the Silent Killer, with a quite spectacular mortality rate. Whereas I have a ton of things still to get done, ten or fifteen years more of flat-out work. So I figured there was no way I was ready yet to throw in the towel just because of some miscreant neoplasm! ;-)  That truly encapsulates his attitude, toward the disease and toward life itself.  The photo here shows Jeremy after the surgery in one of his more precarious strategies to achieve business as usual.

The survival rate drops off sharply after five years but Jeremy made it to those outer fringes and I think during that time he accomplished what it would have taken us mere mortals those ten to fifteen years to achieve.  

He wrote publicly about his illness, most recently on Medium on Jan. 26, 2016 A Love Letter To Life and and earlier one on Oct. 26, 2015 'Man Plans and God Laughs’ — How a single day can change your life.

Before those entries, he had given me a “heads up” email about their contents and we wrote soul-searching exchanges, too personal to post here. I had written about Jeremy’s illness before in my blog, particularly commenting on his own blog entry from 2014, a milestone marking his third anniversary after Whipple surgery.  It seems like only yesterday. Before that entry there was one describing a Baltic cruise we had taken in the Fall of 2011 which was only six months after Jeremy’s life-saving surgery and ironically about the same after my difficult open heart surgery

We both were recuperating simultaneously, having gone down similar, but different life-threatening rabbit holes.  This was yet another bond in our lives.  Shortly afterward, Ann and I were on that Baltic cruise visiting Copenhagen for only one day but unfortunately Jeremy was in Norway on business already.  However we were able to enjoy a typical Danish luncheon with Kirsten and two of their children.

I think of Jeremy as a comet, gloriously, inexplicably appearing and then disappearing for months on end, but when streaking across my sky, our email was deeply personal, rewarding, and we both knew it.  It is unthinkable to me that Jeremy’s Comet is now off, never to return.

As I said at the beginning of this entry, our relationship goes back to the time of the printed book.  Jeremy was a 21st Century man caught in a 20th Century world.  In 1993 he had visited my publishing offices in Westport, Connecticut for a couple of days and we had talked about co-publishing arrangements.  This was in the day when the publishing world was still segregated by geographic territories.  His Adamantine Press was to publish “Adamantine Studies of the 21st Century” in the UK and Europe and my company in the rest of the world.  Mind you, scholarly books at the time sold in the thousands or merely the hundreds.  This was not the audience Jeremy imagined.  How couldn’t EVERYONE be concerned about the future?

His enthusiasm was contagious.  After all day and all night discussing forms of cooperation, I arrived at my office and found a hand-written letter waiting for me, delivered by Jeremy before the office had opened and he had departed for home (wherever that was at the time having lived in different places all over the world). It was 12 pages dated March 17, 1993 on the stationary of the Westport Inn, probably hastily written in the wee hours of the morning.  It gives a sense of the man before he became an “Internet of Things” guru.  Jeremy was unique.  Why I took that letter with me when I retired I now know.  I thought he was an exceptional human being, great things to become of him, and here were twelve pages in his own hand for me to cherish.

The first part of his letter was to thank me for spending that time with him and my wife Ann for hosting cocktails and then for our dinner at the Cobbs Mill Inn, a restaurant near our home in Weston, CT at the time. The second part of the letter I quote in part as it shows the vision which would carry him to his destiny:

Strategy is what makes me buzz, what makes me feel I am on the verge of Understanding, on the fine line where passive –going-with-life’s flow becomes proactive management of life’s flow: containment of it, at least, harnessing of it, manipulation of it.

Which (early-morning) stream-of--consciousness brings me to a general observation about all these darned books that I’ve worked so hard to bring to your attention which I can see making a viable – perhaps even, in time, a substantial – contribution to your publishing program. The observation is this:  that “21st Century” books are not about prediction, they are not even (save tangentially) even foresight.  They are about scholarship – and vision.

The whole point of harvesting these demonstrably forward-looking books is not to enable prediction but to enable understanding of alternatives.  “Simply to be a human being is to be a futurist of sorts.” (I employ this useful statement in a little descriptive blurb!)  “For human freedom is largely a matter of imagining alternative futures and then choosing among them.”

North America contains not 2,500 futurists but 250 million!   Two hundred and fifty million choosers, making choices in a variety of areas on a variety of timescales – strategizing as best they can, which, in these headlong, accelerating times ain’t no cakewalk.

Now we can’t expect to sell 250 million copies of every title!  Some of our “futurists” – our human beings who job is to surmount The Challenge of Choice (bankers, economists, CEOs, urban planners, environmental strategists, designers, public servants; practical men and women of action – some of them, I say, aren’t yet turned twenty).  But from 25 onwards – to 45, 55, and maybe right through till 95 – there is our target audience.  Typically, s/he has already “flagged” this interest in choosing – through an organisational or professional affiliation: and the scale of these organizations can be reassuringly large.

These are the core consumer of “21st Century Studies” – of books which challenge, stimulate, and help to provide a sense of perspective and hope about the future.  These are the strategizes, for those heading up organisations as dynamically as today’s fast-changing circumstances allows – thirsty for insight from whichever source, always provided the insight is captured, kept lucid, and brought to them in some value-added way.

Maybe books, as we discussed at breakfast, and maybe CD-ROM.  But “insight capture” remains our business, our stock-in-trade: and forward-looking, interdisciplinary insight capture is going to be at a premium over the coming years, an opportunity to stake this thirst for insight aimed at helping strategies.  By God, I think that you and I might have to read the titles and not just to publish them.  For strategy is all: and how can those with responsibilities formulate good choices without involving themselves in informed choices?  “The best possible choices, in the best possible order” – that is what you’re paid to make for your publishing organization, in nine simple words.  And there are choosers in the hundreds of thousands in this land of yours.  So Let’s Go For It, let’s get that sector synonymous with the “21st Century” branding and then keep it that way.  Whether in time we supply the sector via printed page, or fax modem, by CD-ROM or “video magazine” that will be a judgment call on the way through.

[The letter continues about proposed financial terms. We did copublish but not on the scale Jeremy envisioned.  By then the next challenge, the Internet, had reached critical mass.  Jeremy concludes his letter with the following thought]:

“…And what about your 5-year plan, …more challenges and choices.  Simply to be Robert Hagelstein is to be a futurist of sorts.  Oh, yes.

See if you can include me in your future, Bob, I would aim to make it one of the shrewdest investments you ever made (and god knows you’ve by all accounts made a goodly few).  Because in some way, for better or for worse,

I am the future.

Fondly --- Jeremy

The last email I had from him was only weeks ago.  It was long, detailed, somehow still intrinsically optimistic, but accepting the inevitable, knowing these days must be spent with his loving family.  It concluded:

Sorry for waylaying you like this on a Sunday morning with so much (too much?) info...but how much is too much when it comes to possibly being one if the last emails I get to write to you who have brought so much love and wisdom to my blessed, if too-short, life?

THANK YOU, Bob - from the very bottom of my heart. For everything.

J xxxxx

I was stunned by it.  I sent him a tearful, heartfelt reply, expressing my regrets that we hadn’t actually seen each other since 2001, but grateful we’ve always been there for one another in cyberspace. I can’t imagine my world without him and it is hard to do justice to such a human being in mere words.  Jeremy, I will always remember you.