Friday, October 28, 2005

Patrick
I talked to a man late yesterday afternoon, and within a few hours or so of our conversation he was dead. I heard the news this morning when I called a professional acquaintance who also knew the man. Before the call, it was clear to me that the man I would soon discover to be dead -- who would leave behind a wife and 9-year-old daughter, named Grace -- was going to be mentioned in the call. He was tangled up in the issue we were likely to talk about. Before the call, before I knew the news, the fact that he would come up in the call -- in a not-focal but also not-tangential way -- gave me a good feeling. I wasn't extremely close to the man and can't claim to have known the breadth of his life at all, but in a narrow range that seemed to be widening we had come to know each other and I liked the man -- his energy, his passion, his quick, funny, slightly crazy mind. I knew that when the professional acquaintance and I talked about the man there was likely to be knowing laughter and probably a few tales told about something he had said in a particular way; possibly a minor denunciation or two as well; and certainly much appreciation and respect.

His name was Patrick Wofford. He ran a business here in Wine Country, Benchmark Consulting, working with many of the major wine companies and organizations to find winemakers, marketers, sales personnel, executives, you name it. Patrick's company brought me to Wine Country, from a freelance-writing career (don't laugh, it paid the bills) in the Applegate Valley in southern Oregon to Napa to toil for the late great wine.com. Patrick and I didn't work together much on that position, although I remember him coming in for the close. Before his firm would endorse me for the position he had to vet me. He wanted to make sure I wouldn't, as he put it, "End up a dead cat on his doorstep." I gathered this was a headhunter's way -- or at least Patrick's -- of saying he didn't want me to fail in and/or bail from the job, which would not only jeopardize his fee but would also injure his reputation. I got the sense, too, that it would just plain piss him off. Maybe this is a reflection of my own insecurities and my indecisiveness about my professional life, but I thought at the time he was insightful to press me a bit.

The Sonoma and Napa wine industry is a small universe and when there's a halfway decent job available out there everyone knows about it and, I suspect, everyone with an IQ higher than his age and a moment's experience gets a call from the headhunter doing the search. After coming to Napa, this is how I really got to know Patrick. Patrick never asked me where I thought I'd be in five years. He never asked me to tell him why I was the most qualified person for a particular job (though he did advise me to have good answers to those questions, since the employer might ask them). Whenever our on-again off-again dialog resumed, it was always as though we'd just left off yesterday even if it was really two or three months ago. We'd say hi and we were off and yacking. Patrick was a good listener. He'd listen and when I was finished with an answer, he'd say, "Yeah," and he'd pause, and then he'd shoot me something like, "You're not ready for this job and I think you know that." I didn't think Patrick's judgment was perfect but I thought it was remarkably good. I trusted him. So I'd seriously entertain whatever he said and once in a while, try to change his mind. And he wasn't afraid to change his mind, at least, not with me.

Patrick and I talked for about a half-hour late on the day he died. Yesterday. I was on my cell phone, outside under a weak storm's gathering gray, daylight fading, cars heading toward Highway 29 on First Street, our little downtown Napa emptying, life rolling forward. And this is how our conversation wrapped up:

PATRICK: Hey, are you dating yet?
ME: Well, I haven't been on dates. But I wouldn't say that's a result of a decision not to date.
PATRICK: You know what I mean. Are you far enough through the shit that you can date? Are you there yet?
ME: I don't know. I don't know. Maybe I'll say that, uh, I think maybe I'm to the point where I want to find out whether I'm ready to date or not.
PATRICK: I don't know if I want to inflict you on this person.
ME: I'll be cool. I won't be manipulative. You know me Patrick. I don't try to hide things. She'll know as soon as I know if I'm still a basket case.
PATRICK: Yeah. Maybe. I'll think about it and talk to her.

I laughed and so did he. And we said our good-byes.

I haven't gotten the details yet, but apparently, later that night, Patrick had a heart attack. In talking today to some folks who knew him, I learned it wasn't his first, and that his father had died of a heart attack. Someone recalled Patrick once saying he didn't think he'd get a lot of years. Maybe that explained the gusto he brought to life. He served on various committees and ran for City Council a couple of times, narrowly losing one bid. He was a man everyone in the industry knew or knew of and he was one of those people, from what I could see, who made the world a more interesting, richer place.

7 comments:

dan said...

Nice remembrance, Pete.

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Robert said...

I agree nice rememberance, I worked for Patrick at the time of his passing. It was a shame to lose such a great human being.