Tuesday, January 19, 2010 5:12 AM

remembering Rich

It's been a year today since Rich died, and I think it's finally sinking in.

I started working for Rich fresh out of school, showing up for my interview in a grey suit and a magenta tshirt and hat, lugging the world's heaviest box portfolio. I wasn't sure if this was the job for me, since I was going to leave at any moment to become a puppeteer (note how that still has not happened), but Rich encouraged me to stick around and that we'd work around it when it came up.

I have never met someone who was as encouraging as Rich. Nothing would delight him more than to be someone's mentor, to pass along what he knew, to buy a print/hire someone/send you something out of the blue because it reminded him of you. When I sang in an a cappella group, not only did I get days off for gigs, but he set up a whole school assembly at his children's elementary school so we could sing there too. He bought artwork - mine and of other artists - to support them, and he pretty much had a standing order for my Christmas cards each year so he could send them out. Books and CDs would be sent to my house because they were written by someone with twins who lived in Rome, or because the singer loved Fred Astaire too, or because Rich was in a generous mood.

Rich was pretty much always in a generous mood - he didn't let people take advantage of him, but he always shared whatever he had. He started up PRI and it became so much more than a job - it was a family. (I am so proud to say that it still is.) He supported numerous charities - he wasn't the kind of person who would talk about helping. He just did it. He encouraged creativity like mad and if the company did well, it would always come back to you too.

Could he be infuriating and drive me up the wall at times? Of course! You don't know someone for 15 years and not have times like that. (In all fairness I'm sure I had my days too.) I'm thinking of one time in particular when he blithely told a client over the phone that I was a whiz at a program I had opened once. I was jumping up and down, waving my arms and signaling "No no no no no!" and he kept smiling and getting details about the project that would be due in two days' time. When he hung up the phone, I said, "Are you crazy? I can't do that!" and he said, "But of course you can! I have faith in you." And wouldn't you know it, it was done on time and it was great - but I never would have attempted it for myself without that shove.

Right before Rich died, we were gearing up for my 15 year anniversary at PRI. We had celebrated 5, and 11 (I think I was having the twins around 10) and he was gleefully planning something HUGE. As much as it pains me, I really do not like to be the center of attention and was known for running out of my own bridal shower in horror that it was all about me. He wanted to invite anyone we'd ever known together, and have a big celebration that I was really not comfortable with. One day I explained all of this to him, and he got sort of pouty. But the next day he was back to his old self. "I figured it out!" he said. "It's not going to be about you at all. It's going to be about me!"

"Oh really," I said. "And how do you figure that?"

"We will be celebrating my genius in hiring you 15 years ago!" And after that, it was referred to as "his" party, to his delight.

Except he wasn't able to be there for it. And my heart still hurts thinking about it.

I could write for days about great Rich memories. About things that made me laugh. (The clamp he put on his head. The cat he put on his head. "Crackers not part of soup! Pepper part of soup!") About how we would talk almost every single day. About how he would always say "love you, kiddo," because he wanted to make sure I knew. And I would say "love you right back" because it was so true. About how he'd been there for most of the biggest things in my life, and did whatever he could to make them special or easier for me (he even read at our wedding). About how much we both loved the Beatles and could go on and on about music we loved. About the big PRI weekend we had down the beach because he wouldn't take no for an answer and insisted everyone and their families go to LBI for the weekend so we could all be together.

And I could go on and on about the things that hurt. The anniversary party he wanted so much for me where I kept looking for him and could feel him there like a presence. The first client meeting without him where I sobbed the minute the door closed behind me when I was back home. Missing his birthday. Having the first-ever new hire at PRI who didn't know Rich, and was never going to get to meet him. The PRI holiday party where again, I felt him there and wished with all my heart he would physically be there with us. Looking at his Skype window and hoping he'd somehow IM me with some crazy video or song he had to share with me so we could sing it together.

The biggest comfort I felt after he died was that he knew how very much I loved him, because I told him all the time. :) And meeting people at the memorial service, people would say, "Oh, you're Elena? He loved you!"

I still love you, Rich. And don't think that's going to stop any time soon.


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