“Everything is Dead Except the Future,” John Beardsley

How much of your own future do you have left? At age 47, I consider myself to be at ‘halftime.’ Heck, my grandmother lived until 103 — and she was a spit-fire to the very end! Last week I attended the memorial celebration for the life of John Beardsley, former CEO of Padilla Speer Beardsley. At 73, he died much, much too early (he’s the same age as my own parents.) I worked for Beardsley for seven years, five of those years I was one of his business partners.

With John’s passing, I can’t help but think we lost a one-in-a-million classic-worshiping futurist. He loved history, and at the same time preached: “Everything is dead except the future.” He was exceedingly conservative and eccentric at the same time. As an employee, if you asked the right question you’d be entertained by a Julius Ceasar-like oration, while he quoted ancient Chinese warriors about strategy. He loved making history come to life, even though he said it was dead. Ask the wrong question, and you’d think your career with the firm was history.

My favorite PSB employee moment came at the direction of Beardsley. He was fascinated with the World War II historical context of movie Saving Private Ryan. The week of the blockbuster movie debut, he taught a two-hour brown bag lunch session about the context, strategies and tactics that made the war-movie so compelling. He lectured about preparations for the invasion of the beaches of Normandy. He ventured into the history of cinematography. He taught German war strategy and tactics, and how their use of fiery “tracer bullets” was one of the reasons they lost the war. (The Germans wanted to know where their bullets were going…the Allied Forces could see where the bullets were coming from, and they shot at the source.)

The following week, he took the whole firm to a movie theater for a daytime showing of Saving Private Ryan. We were all moved three times: before, during and after the show as we made the connections Beardsley helped us see.

I never agreed with him that “everything is dead, except the future.” And, right now, my experience with Beardsley is proving him wrong. His memory is very much alive for me.

John, I hope you gave one helluva stump speech at the Pearly Gates — we would expect nothing less.

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