What I Gained from an Unlikely Friendship

When I first moved to Boston, and it was hard to make friends, my mother told me to look outside friends my own age.  “Some of my most interesting friends are many years older than me,” she said.  I took her advice then and a few years later  I met Paul.

He was a consultant for the ad agency I worked at.  Paul was a good 30 years older than me, a seasoned publicist with connection in the media, in government and in business.  He had one of those thick but refined Boston accents and boy, was he stealth.  He’d show up at your cube or office door silently, like a panther.  He’d give a good tip (maybe a story to pitch the media) or a choice piece of gossip, but you’d have to listen closely because his voice was quiet.  Which made the info all the more intriguing.

In my twenties, I was in awe of Paul and his connections with the Boston Globe and as a trusted advisor to the CEO of our 1000-person ad agency.  He always had a well-thought out idea that he would present in his deliberate manner and usually it would work.  One time, he convinced a cynical hardnosed newspaper columnist to write a glowing story on one of the agency’s charitable programs.  During this time, I’d look to Paul for advice, and he’d always look out for my career path.

I left the agency and came back and I think Paul had something to do with my hiring in what became my dream job- handling PR for the ad agency.  As we worked together more closely, our working relationship morphed into a real friendship.

One of the qualities I admired about Paul (and now pride myself on: knowing the ins and outs of getting a quality, authentic and meaningful experience off the beaten path.  The first time I went to Paris, he loaned me his Michelin guide and explained to go for the 2 star restaurants for a delicious meal on a budget.  When my husband and I went on our honeymoon to Italy, he urged us to go the opera in Verona (an outdoor amphitheater that we still remember) and a fishing village next to Portofino that was not touristy like Portofino.  He also knew good hole in the wall restaurants in Boston with great food and made you feel like you were in the know.

He had a million connections.  I called him when my friend was trying to get her adopted daughter out of Haiti after the earthquake.  I called him when I wanted to find a good primary care doctor at Mass General for my husband (so he made a phone call and hooked him up with Senator Ted Kennedy’s doctor).   I called him when I wanted Red Sox tickets.

Paul gave me a special gift from Shreve’s (a Boston institution, another classy touch) when my daughter was born, a gift idea I’ve stolen from him to give my special friends (pewter birthday candle holders with the ducks from Make Way for Ducklings). When his first grandchild was born, I shared his excitement and gave him a gift for when the baby visited (a booster seat/high chair combo that could be pulled out when she came to visit).  When he started to get sick, I would save up all of my good advertising and media industry gossip to share with him over the phone.   Boston is a small town, and I’d find I had a connection to his South Shore roots, or his time as President of the Ad Club of Boston and he’d delight in telling me a good story about the person we had in common.

When he suddenly had to downsize into an apartment and get some help as his health started to deteriorate, I pulled off my own stealth mission for him.  His home was on the market and some of the contents were being sold by an estate sale company.   Family members weren’t allowed at the sale as part of the agreement, and he had some second thoughts on some of the items that were up for sale.  I promised him I’d pretend I didn’t know him and buy back some items that were sentimental (a bookcase his father had made) and some books and antiques he wanted to give some of his friends.  I remember calling him on my cell phone from an upstairs room with a report on what was sold, what wasn’t and what the prices were.  I was glad I could help my friend.

Today I got the call that Paul passed away.  He always made the world seem a little smaller and all of us more connected.    I already have started to continue his legacy of connecting people and finding those hidden gems and amazing experiences.  I hope he got out as much of our friendship as I did.

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