Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Chuck O’Hara – Rest In Peace, Beloved Friend

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine

This morning my head and my heart are full of Chuck O’Hara. He has that kind of effect on people – in life and in death. In a few moments, I’ll head out to my car to make the long drive – not long as measured in miles, but a trying trek when measured in thoughts – to St. Luke The Evangelist Parish in Westboro to join a few hundred fellow pilgrims in saying good-bye to Chuck.

Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Following the funeral Mass, and after the obligatory time for collation and conversation in the Parish Hall, Chuck’s family and a cadre of close friends will form a funeral procession that will head West. The cortege will ride the ribbon of the Mass. Turnpike to the New York border, where they will cross the Hudson River and proceed to Calvary Cemetery in Glenmont, NY. Chuck will be laid to rest hard by the graves of his parents, Charles Joseph and Mary Hanratty O’Hara, whom he both venerated and emulated. Over the past few days since Chuck’s death, I have come to understand that in the O’Hara clan, the apple does not often fall far from the tree. Chuck was renowned for his gregarious persona and the gravitational pull of his charisma and Irish wit. Both by nature and by nurture, Chuck inherited those traits from his parents.

Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion

I have been regaled with stories of Mother O’Hara, in the family’s home near Albany, feeling most fulfilled when she was playing hostess to several dozen souls around her table. In an atmosphere redolent of boiled corned beef and cabbage, there would often gather in convivial cacophony around that table a motley assortment of children, neighbors, extended family, and several members of the priesthood – all hungry for the food, fun and fellowship that were the hallmarks of the home over which Mary O’Hara presided with such grace and warmth.

Et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem

Chuck left home to serve his nation. His first stop in military service was just a few miles down the Hudson River at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Chuck was a proud member of the Class of 1976 and a member of Company H-4. Chuck and I often talked about the regimental structure of the Corps of Cadets at West Point. While I myself was never a student at West Point, I have, over the past several years, become an eager student of West Point and of our nation’s other Service Academies. As an Executive Recruiter, I have been privileged to come to know many men and women of distinction whose skills as business leaders were first forged in the crucibles of the leadership training that are part of the fabric of our Service Academies’ curricula. Chuck O’Hara was a shining example of this phenomenon.

Exaudi orationem meam,

Chuck had a theory about each regimental company at West Point having its own unique personality. Chuck was convinced that there was something qualitatively different about life as a cadet in Company H-4 in contradistinction to life in Company A-1. According to Chuck’s theory, A-1 was always on the point in public parades, and under the most scrutiny from commanding officers and the adoring public that turned out on The Plain to see the Corps pass in review in all of its splendor and pomp. As a result, A-1 cadets tended to be serious, focused, by-the-book individuals who carried that ethos away from the Parade Ground. H-4 was hidden away in the back of the Corps, and under far less scrutiny. As a result, there tended to be a looser, more care free esprit among the denizens of H-4. It was not that they were any less skilled as soldiers-in-training; they just had more fun as they marched through their four years at USMA. Chuck claimed that years later, he could tell by the demeanor of someone whom he would meet from his era at West Point, which company that person had likely been assigned to.

Ad te omnis caro veniet.

From what I know of Chuck over the years, he carried that H-4 philosophy with him throughout his life – he worked hard and played hard and embraced life with all of its joys and challenges. Chuck was possessed of one of the most brilliant minds I have ever encountered. We first met a few years ago at a luncheon sponsored by the Service Academy Business Network in Boston. By dint of my working with many candidates and clients who are graduates of one of the Service Academies, I have become a “permanent guest member” of this monthly gathering of business leaders who hail from West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy and Coast Guard Academy. It was at one of these monthly gatherings that Chuck and I had our first conversation, and that conversation spilled over into breakfast the next week. Those breakfasts became regular events, and ones that I looked forward to with great anticipation.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine

Chuck and I met for one of our breakfasts last Tuesday at our usual haunt – the breakfast nook in the Courtyard by Marriott in Natick – not far from Chuck’s office. As was his wont, before meeting me for breakfast Chuck had stopped by his local parish for morning Mass. This breakfast was to be a bit different from our usual bi-weekly get together. Chuck had specifically set an agenda; he wanted to talk about his new company and the funding that was immanent. He also wanted to talk with me about some ideas he had for two books that he wanted me to join him in writing. Chuck was excited about the fact that his chlorine dioxide project was about to gain traction and be funded so that he and his partners could move forward with producing prototypes for the gas generator. This idea that had been germinating in his mind for many years would finally be born as a fully formed and functioning company.

Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Chuck talked at length about the progress he was making with meeting with a patent attorney, filing patents, finalizing funding. He was as excited and as full of life as I have ever seen him. He often returned to the topic of the purity of the chlorine gas – purity was everything if the gas was to perform its all-important function of decontaminating and preserving the surfaces that had been exposed to the gas’s magical powers. We spent so much time talking about purity that we had to leave before we got the chance to discuss the book projects. Chuck’s final words to me that morning were: “That will be the topic of our next breakfast.” My final words to Chuck - after yet another two-hour breakfast in which we hardly stopped talking long enough to eat our food – words spoken with tongue in cheek were: “Chuck, maybe some day we’ll finally find something to talk about!” We both laughed.


A few days later, in the midst of a meeting that was to finalize funding for his nascent company, Chuck was suddenly stricken and in the blink of an eye he was gone. I received the shocking news over the weekend when Scott Leishman, a mutual friend and a fellow West Point colleague of Chuck’s, called me from New York. My first reactions were very human – I was shocked; I was angry; I was hurt. I shed lots of tears over the past few days. I had conversations with myself and with God: “What a waste! Chuck was only 51 years old. He was on the brink of an exciting new chapter in his life. How unfair! Think of the years worth of words unspoken, books not written, purifying gas not dispersed”

Kyrie eleison

And then I began trying to lift the veil of self-pity and to try to see things through the eyes of faith. Chuck had a strong faith, and my faith in the same Lord tells me that Chuck was instantly ushered into God’s presence when he left us on Friday. Do I understand God’s timing? No. Do I agree with God’s timing? Absolutely not! Do I trust Him to know what is best? Yes, even though it is sometimes hard and exquisitely painful to do so. As I sat last night in the parlor of the funeral home in Westboro where Chuck’s family and friends had gathered for his wake, I had a chance to observe and to think.

Christe eleison

The light of Chuck’s life was his relationship with his sons – Patrick and John. I had never met Patrick or John before last evening. Patrick now lives in Georgia with his wife, and John is taking the art world of New York by storm and lives in Brooklyn. I had a chance last night to meet them and to observe them. In the O’Hara clan, the apple does not often fall far from the tree. In the midst of their grief and loss and pain, Patrick and John - surrounded by a swirling cohort of mother, aunts and uncles and cousins galore, and friends beyond numbering – held court in a way that I know made Chuck enormously proud. In the physical sense, Chuck is gone from our midst, and the books he wanted to write will not be written on paper. Those two volumes of truth that he wanted to convey to the world will now have to be written through the chapters that his two sons - Patrick and John - will add to the story of the O’Hara family's passage through this life – making the world a safer, warmer and more satisfying place than it would be without this noble clan.

Kyrie eleison

Chuck, the brilliant chemist and inventor, dreamed of forming a company that would disperse a cloud of purifying chlorine dioxide gas – a cloud that would dispel disease and preserve purity. In a sense, he has succeeded beyond his wildest imagination. Through the chemistry of his personality, he gathered around him a company of family and friends who now will accept the responsibility of being a force for good in this world – of picking up the mantle that he lay down last Friday. I can already feel it happening. John said to me last night: “I am really going to miss him; we talked every night.” My first thought was: “I want to be that kind of a father.” I am going to use Chuck’s example and inspiration to be a better father to my sons. I know Chuck was pleased to hear and to watch Patrick and John last night rising to the challenge of setting aside their own pain to minister to those who had come to minister to them. Chuck must have been as pleased last night as I am sure he was on Friday when he heard the voice of his Lord welcoming him – no doubt with a lilting Galilean brogue – with these well-earned words:

“Well done, Chuck, thou good and faithful servant. Come and share your Master’s happiness.”


Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Al:
Thank you for the O'Hara reflections. I will pray for him and his family, to be sure. In sharing your insightful and hearfelt views you brought perspective to this helter-skelter environment in which we all live. God's speed to Chuck O'Hara on his new journey. I am glad to know you Al Chase!

W. Frank Johnston said...

Al, you have such a gift for expressing emotions and thoughts. Thanks for the reflections and the personal nature of your comments about Chuck.

Oh, and you are right about the comments of A-1 versus H-4. I was in A-1 and with that carried a reputation, expectations, and a different behavior than in H-4.

We can't choose our time to go, but it sounds like Chuck was prepared; it appears as if he had a significant impact on many people he knew. My best to his family in their time of sadness for his loss.

Anonymous said...

Well said Al. THanks for posting such a wonderful remembrance about a great man and friend.

Dana Johnson said...

I first met Chuck over the telephone in the fall of 2000. He was working for Selective Micro Technologies at the time and found my name on the internet after searching chlorine dioxide + brewing. Chuck called me and told me about the new method of generating chlorine dioxide SMT had developed. I was immediately impressed with Chuck, his enthusiasm, and how eloquent he was over the phone. After talking to him for awhile, I remember telling Chuck, "Hey, I am sold already. Where have you been all my life?". Chuck was that kind of guy. He could make a big impact on a person in a very short amount of time.

I met Chuck in person in the fall of 2001 when I traveled to Portsmouth, NH for a MBAA New England District meeting at Redhook. It was shortly after 9-11 and I flew into Boston and drove up and met Chuck at Redhook. It was great to finally get to meet Chuck in person. He was everything he was over the phone and more. What a dynamic, friendly, outgoing personality. Our bond grew again.

The next time Chuck and I got to be together would also be the last, unfortunately. Chuck and I met in Cleveland in the spring of 2002 for the AOB Craft Brewers Conference & Trade Show. He spent a lot of time working the trade show pushing the SMT products for Crosby & Baker, the other brewing distributor at the time. We did, however, have a fantastic meal at Morton's and I still remember it to this day.

Chuck was the kind of guy that was great at follow-up. When he was with SMT, He would call me about once a week to see how things were going or just to chat. We had developed a friendship. When he didn't call me for a couple weeks in 2003, I thought it was very strange. It wasn't like Chuck not to call. I called his extension and was told he was no longer with the company. I was shocked.

I didn't hear from Chuck for quite a long time after he left SMT. He couldn't really tell me why he left but I knew why. Everybody who reads this probably knows the reason why as well.

Chuck came back into my life last year much like the way he did the first time. Full of energy, enthusiasm, and ideas. I was excited to be able to work with him again but more importantly, have him in my life again.

The last email I got from him was Friday morning, 9/16/05. His final line said, "Candles burning for you all."

Chuck, I'm keeping the candles burning for you. I miss you, buddy. My best to you and your family. May you rest in peace until we meet again.

Bob O'Brien said...

Al, beautifully chronicled. I wish I had known Chuck, but through your words I have a glimpse. You're right, at times it is hard to trust God, but it is always the best course. God Bless.