memories

Three favorite memories of Richard, among many, many more:

In 1985, just a couple years after I first met Richard, he and a couple of colleagues from the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro came to my home to plan a CCL program on innovation. It was a cold winter day, and I had a fire in the fireplace. Richard sat on the floor by the fire, shoes off, brows knitted in concentration. Having formulated his thoughts, he leapt to his feet, seized the fireplace poker, and started using it as a baton to punctuate his monologue. He grew more and more intense, gesturing ever more broadly with that poker as he spoke. When he finished, 10 minutes later, the rest of us burst out laughing. Without realizing it, he had grabbed the wrong end of the poker… and was now covered in soot, head to foot.

Around 1990, I invited Richard to give a seminar in the psychology department at Brandeis, where I was then on the faculty. The talk was wonderful, of course, and it gave me one of my most memorable laugh lines. While describing his research on airline cockpit crews,  Richard remarked, “You know that line the flight attendants say during the safety briefing – ‘In the unlikely event of a water landing…’? What they should say is, ‘In the unlikely event of surviving a water landing…’” From then on, anytime I and my husband (who’d also attended Richard’s talk that day) heard that line on an airplane, we’d look at each other and burst out laughing. A few years later, of course, an entire plane-load of people did survive a water landing on the Hudson River. I called Richard up and said, “So… what do you say now, smarty-pants?”

In April of 1995, just a few months after I’d moved to HBS, Richard and I were walking on campus near the Dean’s House.  He glanced over the fence into the House’s backyard, and exclaimed about how fantastic the spring flowers were. More than a foot shorter than Richard, I allowed as how I couldn’t quite see them over that high fence... so I’d have to be content with his description. Without warning, and oblivious to the colleagues and students walking by us, Richard leaned over, grabbed me around the waist, and hoisted me high in the air so that I, too, could enjoy the spectacular sight. Of course, it was I who felt like the spectacular sight at that moment. How quintessentially Richard… to do something so silly and socially inappropriate out of an immensely generous impulse to share his joyful enthusiasm for life.

I will miss him very much.

-Teresa Amabile