Monday, June 28, 2010

Thinking About Lloyd.

The voice on the other end of the line was almost impossible to understand. I was familiar with Australian accents, but not New Zealand. Combined with the bad connection (I was in Minneapolis, talking to a Kiwi in Russia), I was afraid I would miss a question and blow my big chance.

I was interviewing for the position of business editor at an English-language newspaper. I was talking with the founder and publisher, who was asking me all sorts of questions about my experience. The problem was, I didn't have a whole lot. I had worked at my college newspaper, of course, and had been lucky enough to find a job kind of in my field of interest (journalism) after college as an editor at a business newswire. But while it sounded good, all it meant was retyping press releases into a computer and coding it and sending it out over a PR wire. So I played up my experience of studying in Russia, and sounded as enthusiastic as I could.

It worked, and after an agonizing week of waiting, Lloyd called me back to tell me I had the job. Elated, I danced around my apartment after getting off the phone, then called Matt, who (although I didn't know it at the time) was less than elated to hear that I would be leaving the country. But he was happy for me, and congratulated me. I wrote that night in my journal that I thought I might be falling for him.

Lloyd's first words to me in person were "You're not as tall as I thought you would be." I am 5'10". He was about 5'5". I said, "Neither are you." It is probably the most clearly the two of us ever communicated.

Over the next few days, I was surprised at how bad Lloyd's Russian was. I was taken aback at how inept he seemed when talking to Russians -- not just with the language, but in the flow of conversation, the way you have to approach subjects. He had long dark red hair and a ginger beard. He told us stories about being caught in elevators with thugs and about outsmarting the tax police after a raid on the office. With his diminutive size, laughable Russian, and that crazy hair, the stories seemed unlikely.

As I settled into my job and detached myself from the old one, I found myself casting Lloyd as a slightly antagonistic boss -- not quite as micromanaging as my last one, but a definite meddler. He was mischievous where I was sarcastic, and our one-on-one chats always felt full of wrong turns. "I can never quite tell what you're thinking," he said to me once after offering some (truly) constructive criticism. I had thought my response had been clear: I appreciated the criticism and would work harder on that front. But I had no response for his statement, so I merely smiled.

I eventually became associate editor and my good friend Garfield became editor. I was happy to be a second-in-command; I found I liked being the make-it-happen person while other people dreamed big dreams and brainstormed and what-iffed. But sometimes it was hard to be the American and the youngest and the woman, the antipode to Lloyd and Garfield. When the three of us sat down to share our ideas for the paper's mission statement, I read a 25-word sentence any Minnesota public company would have been proud to engrave on a piece of brass and display at the front desk. "Mmm," Lloyd said. "Short and sweet." The two of them then held forth for more than an hour, talking in circles. Meetings like that drove me crazy.

This was how we worked, though, and we generally worked well together. Lloyd even went on vacations for weeks while Garfield and I held down the fort, putting out better and better papers. When he returned, he would spend a day or two meddling, then let us do our thing, popping up every once in awhile, his face peeking over a cubicle wall at what was usually a bad time to talk.

Lloyd was the one who got me back to Russia. Before I came to St. Petersburg, Lloyd moved out of his apartment but kept paying rent on it until I got there, so I had a place to stay. I remember his rare words of praise and still remind myself of them throughout my career. Lloyd was the one who signed the invitation necessary to get Matt a visa to travel to Russia to visit me; the invitation listed Matt as a business consultant for the paper. That was the trip when Matt asked me to marry him. Lloyd wrote a glowing letter of recommendation for me when I left the newspaper; I left it more briskly, perhaps, than he expected, and there was some bemusement on his part. He was not around on my last day. I never spoke to him again.

You see where this is going, of course; I found out this morning that Lloyd died Saturday at age 46 while dancing at Glastonbury Festival. I've been thinking of him all day. I gave him very little credit for many of the things he did in St. Petersburg. He started up a business in Russia that's still going strong. He united a cranky, rambunctious staff full of people bent on undermining, sleeping with, mentoring, working with and/or abandoning each other, from many countries. In my 24-year-old arrogance, I saw only how Lloyd affected me, and not what he was doing for everyone. Despite his bad Russian and clumsy relations with Russians, his unfailing energy and cheerful, fey refusal to hear "no" powered him through any awkward moment. He went on to work at nonprofits in England and elsewhere; he helped developing nations build their news media; he managed emergency health-care relief for an NGO in trouble spots around the world; he got married and started a family. Tributes on his Facebook page are coming in from all over Earth from people he helped or encouraged or worked with. I am one of those people. Without Lloyd, my life would be very different, and so would many others.

1 comment:

  1. Ok, please forgive me for restating this, if in fact that's what I'm doing. I've attempted to post this comment, but as far as I can see, it hasn't taken. Anyway, if it appears that I've
    Posted twice, please delete one. 

    So obviously I never have, or will know Lloyd. I found myself hanging on every word of this story. I guess what drew me was the fact that while of this was going on, I knew next to nothing of it, yet I felt as close to anyone to the man who traveled across the world to ask you to marry him. 
    For me, it brings a great pleasure to see in to this short but important chapter in your lives, and I'm truly grateful for it.
    At the same time, I can relate to the heartbreak you feel on learning of the loss of a friend and colleague. I'm struck by
    the loss that I feel realizing that most likely, I'll never speak to or see Matt again. Maybe not in the same way, or in the same magnitude, but the man who came to see you in the USSR (on what according to you, were falsified documents, ha!!!!) was hugely influential in my life, quite possibly to a greater extent.

    This was a profound and heartbreaking story, and I thank you for sharing it.

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