Unfortunately, saying thank you seems to be an afterthought more and more. So at least once a month, I will take a few minutes to publicly appreciate someone that has had an impact on me.
This round: Dave Desrochers
Dave Desrochers unexpectedly passed away on April 6th. This post is going to be very hard to write. I’m still not sure I can fully express my appreciation or my sorrow. But I’m going to try…
Our relationship began in 2005 when I hired him at CNSI for the Michigan Medicaid replacement project. I needed a leader for the interfaces team. The team that would be critical to the system working, required meticulous detail and passion for the overall goal given everything this team did was behind the scenes. In what felt like no time at all, Dave demonstrated the focus, detailed attention, and commitment to getting things done. So much so that I hired him again a few years later at TechSmith. For the eight years that he reported to me, there was never one moment where I couldn’t depend on him no matter the task. For the seventeen years that I’ve known him, there was never one moment where I couldn’t count on his support.
And that in itself would be enough to appreciate and recognize but there’s more.
As his manager, I once was annoyed that he was so gruff in a meeting. My words were “Dave, you were a bull in a china shop.”. His response was something like “who even needs china?”. See, that was Dave. Focused and FUNNY. His humor was always on point. To this day, this man pulled the best joke that terrifies me today. He knew I was an early bird, I’m talking 6 am in the office by myself. So he planted a device that made random quiet noises. It was windy that day, I didn’t notice it initially. Until it whispered, “hey, can you hear me?”. I screamed and jumped over my desk thinking that came from the window behind me. I refused to go back into my office until someone else arrived and I made that person sit with me in my office – I was freaking out. That person helped me figure out it was a prank (thanks Bill) and another found the device (thanks Jeremy). So I went back into my office only to hear “hey, can you hear me?” again. Turns out that even knowing it was a prank did not stop me from screaming just as loud. Dave had planted two, yes two, of these devices. And as much as I jump at those words even today, I smile at all of our pranks. I hate that there will not be anymore.
As much as I appreciate those two aspects of him, there is another that deserves to be highlighted. I once said to Dave, “would you please just say cool after one of my ideas instead of playing devil’s advocate?”. His response was, “I respect you too much to ever do that.” He was right — he understood the power of the wisdom from a crowd and exploring things from numerous angles. He questioned always. He challenged consistently. He wanted the best — for the org, for the teams, for you, and for himself. He didn’t let me take the easy route. He didn’t let me settle. He didn’t let me go through the motions. To this day, I really think through why and the entire landscape of problems due to his influence.
And then there is the one that deserves the most recognition – that not many people deliver. Let me share a story to explain what I’m talking about… Back in 2006, I was sitting in a client meeting about 6 months pregnant. At that time, I didn’t openly share the stillborn loss of our first son with colleagues. So the meeting included normal pregnancy commentary that is actually quite painful for me to hear. The discussion went on for a really long time but I tried to just plaster a smile on my face. I knew it wasn’t intentional but I was beginning to have a panic attack. As the meeting ended, Dave quickly opened the door for me and asked if he could speak to me. I declined as I was trying to rush to my office to cry. He insisted that he really needed to talk and that we had to go outside. So I went. As he rounded the corner, he says, “get it out. say/scream any inappropriate thought. no judgment.” And I did. I mean I really did. He just held that space for me. I didn’t feel any judgment. I didn’t feel any embarrassment. I didn’t feel any shame. I just felt supported and seen. And all these years later, he’s done this for me and others numerous times. I wish there were more people that truly were there for you in the ugliest of moments. Dave often spotted the moments no one else saw or was willing to engage with. He was authentic in who he was and not enough people know how to create spaces like that.
I had the honor to be along for the ride of his journey as a leader. As I read reactions, comments, etc from people spanning all those years, he invested and challenged so many people. He made a difference for his clients, companies, teams, and individuals. I’m lucky. A direct report became a mentee. A mentee became a friend. I got to talk with him just a few days before he passed away. Within the week before, I got to smile from a text highlighting something I taught him that still makes him giggle like a 10-year-old. Yet, I still wonder if I expressed enough that he would know just how heartbroken I am. That I’m sad there won’t be the annual “fuck timezones…happy birthday” text at 4 am this year. That I’m mad that people have lost his reliability and support. That I regret not thanking him on our last call. That I’m devastated for his wife and children. And then I think about the space he creates — he would honor my words and then crack some joke about being sappy and we would laugh. I already miss your laugh.
I don’t know how to end this. That’s the problem, I’m still not ready to accept that it’s the end. So I’ll do what I think he would want…
Photo from Agile2012 that I had hanging in my office then and still now. Dave is the one on the far left. I am the one with the long hair. Yes, they had backside sketch artists. It was amazing.
Photo above from Kunz, Leigh and Associates where Dave was a partner (press release).