By George, the power of persistence . . .

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Have you ever lost a loved one? If so, you’ll know how difficult it is to adapt to such a loss. Part of my strategy is to always to try to take a lesson from the person’s life. From my late friend, George, I learned the value of persistence…

My friend George (pictured here) died this week. His death wasn’t a surprise but it was still shocking as I guess death inevitably is. Although only in his 50s, he had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). He’d been sick for so long — at least five years — and had adapted so well, buzzing around in his motorized scooter and excoriating the fools who couldn’t install an elevator in his house properly, I think we all figured he was destined for this earth at least a little while longer.

George was quite possibly the most extroverted person I’ve ever met in my life. Always bursting with stories and opinions, he was loud and smart and funny as hell. I met him through my husband who knew George and his wife from the gang he hung around with at university.

The pair lived in Eastern Canada for a long while but eventually made their way back west about 10 years ago and set up house in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. In recent years, my family had developed the habit of going to their city for a weekend break each December and we’d usually drop in to see them. They had no kids but always welcomed ours. I recall one dinner during which George gave loud and eccentric advice to my daughter about how to build her babysitting business. I laughed so hard that tears poured down my face.

In the last two years, I came to know George and his wife even better, when I started working for them. They initially hired me on a communications contract for their university-based centre. The group’s focus is on children’s health policy — a topic of passionate interest to them both. As George’s illness progressed they asked me to take on a management role so his supremely gifted wife, who is the centre’s director, could take a leave from work.

Working with George was interesting but never easy. He was panoply of contradictions. Warm and engaging one moment he could also be intense, confrontational and mule-headed. And, oh, how he loved to talk! “Sorry for gassin’ on, darling,” he’d say to me after a marathon 1.5-hour phone conversation. He had opinions about everything and wasn’t scared about yelling them if you disagreed with him. Several times when we spoke, I was glad there was a ferry trip separating us — otherwise I might have cheerfully throttled him.

Still his persistence often paid off. For example, there was the time I helped guide his group through developing a new logo. The graphic artist I worked with suggested they use a stylized child’s handprint. I thought it was a great idea and well executed; George thought it was weak. “It’s too flat,” he said, well, flatly. “It’s needs more dynamism.” That was George — always using four-syllable $2 words in favour of 25 cent ones like “movement.”

So, I went back to the graphic artist and gave him the bad news. I wasn’t overly hopeful but the graphic artist surprised me. He thought things over for a few days and returned with a fan of five handprints — each a different size and colour to represent children of different ages — swooping gracefully around the name of the group. George was right to hold out. The new logo was much better.

George saw himself as an artist in the broadest sense of the word — someone preoccupied with big ideas and important thoughts. He was also an excellent writer — he’d even been a journalist for a while in his multifaceted life. In his honour, I’m therefore christening a new model for writers.

This model holds that if you ever think you have a good word or a great sentence or a terrific paragraph, you shouldn’t accept it too quickly. Instead, work on it just a little bit longer and think about just a little bit harder, and it’s likely you’ll be able to produce some small change that will lead to a major improvement. (This thinking, by the way should always occur while you’re editing, not while you’re writing.) I call it the George paradigm, and hold it in memory of the handprint logo incident.

RIP, George. I’ll miss you.