Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Touched by Greatness


I know a lot of people, and even love some of them. The ones I love are pretty much restricted to my family or closest of friends.

There is one exception to this.

One extraordinary soul that only departed this earth last Wednesday loomed large in my life - not just as an employer, but as a unique force in my life entire.

Paul Sharratt was 75 when he succumbed to a heart attack in the arms of his wife at 630 in the morning on May 27th, 2009.

He was a successful performer in his native land of Australia, with plenty of fame and awards to compliment his formidable skill set in the arts of comedy, song, dance and hosting. He was knighted. He has a park named after him. He won 12 "Logey" awards (the Australian equivalent of our Emmy).

He was an executive producer at my company, again with plenty of accolades and benchmarks of professional accomplishment. He has an American Emmy. He has traveled all over the world, not only for broadcast programming but for the outstanding charity work of Feed The Children. He has been instrumental in the success of my employer and by extension my employment.

But his legacy goes far, far, FAR beyond commercial achievement.

I have struggled for days and days on end to put into words just what made Paul Sharratt such an incredible force, not only in my life, but with everyone he encountered.

Honestly, I think he was touched by God.

He had a light in his spirit that was inescapable, and undeniable.

Don't get me wrong. He was not a saint, he was mortal. He had plenty of human faults and sins that were plainly visible at times. And yet, it didn't matter one bit. Everyone wanted to be around this man.

Case in point - an ex-employee (one of many) was at Paul's service. He drove all the way from Utah to be there. He had been personally fired 6 years ago BY PAUL. It didn't matter. He was there and he loved the man.

Everyone. And I mean everyone, loved Paul.

I've never met a man before quite like him, and I know I'll never meet one again.

I have been with my company for 13 years, and I've had the privilege of working with Paul on most days in that time period. Both in Los Angeles and all over the world, in locales as diverse as his homeland, Africa, China, southeast Asia and all across Europe.

By nature, especially at work and in my day to day interactions with the world, I am a private person. I save my inner thoughts and vulnerabilities for my wife, my brother, my mom and a small handful of my closest friends.

I rarely had any "deep" conversations with Paul, it was always pretty much work - good humored and good natured, but pretty much about business.

I loved the man, probably within a few months of meeting him, but I always respected his position as my employer and never sought to connect with him beyond my role as an employee who had a healthy respect for him.

There are two exceptions I can remember where my usual business-like manner was let down with him. I cling to these instances now fondly - as I wish with all my heart I could have had another conversation to tell him how much he meant to me.

The first instance was in Rome, after we had all enjoyed an audience with Pope JP II. I have written here before that I, not a religious person whatsoever, burst into quiet tears of joy upon seeing the holy father. I had a lovely talk with Paul that evening about the experience, and I could see that he was genuinely touched that I had been so moved (as had he) in seeing the pope.

The second instance was back in LA, when Paul had just returned from his cancer surgery. I looked into his eyes and told him how great it was to see him, he squeezed my shoulder gently and smiled with his usual magical warmth and a twinkle in his eyes, not saying a word, but clearly touched by my concern.

Reading back on what I've written, I think I've pretty much failed to convey what was so great about Paul.

I can say all sorts of wonderful things about him that are true and give you a sense about him as a person - but you really had to know him to understand that he was so much more than the sum of these parts.

He was warm. He was charming. He had a fun and wicked sense of humor. He had charisma, but still seemed down to earth.

He was a good listener, but generally had already formed an opinion - and yet, he didn't come off as close minded at all.

He could be irritable - and yet, somehow, people were still drawn to him, even when he was cross.

He didn't suck up to people. Ever. He didn't kiss ass - and yet, somehow, even people that he had to deal with professionally (yes, he did fire people on occasion) never held a grudge, never wished him ill. It sounds unbelievable, bizarre even, but it was true.

I honestly believe there was a light in him - that he could be fallible - and yet somehow never lose his connection with the divine.

I have been deeply affected over losing him - though as I say, I wasn't by any means a close friend of his. But I am overwhelmed and so deeply honored to have, as Ruta Lee so beautifully said at his memorial service, lived in close proximity to such an incredible thread in the tapestry of life.

I take great comfort from Paul's wife, who told me in private that Paul thought very highly of me.

My heart breaks for her, and Paul's daughters - one of which worked with her dad here in LA for many years. How hard it must be for her to come back to a place that is so much filled with Paul's presence.

All of Paul's girls (his wife and 2 daughters) are in my prayers - I know they will get through it, because Paul is with them and helping them along the way.

He is with me as well - and I know he doesn't want anyone to be overwhelmed with grief. He wants us to enjoy our lives.

I know those closest to him will eventually persevere. And the rest of us will get through as well.

Looking around at the people who knew him, it is very evident that Paul has left a little piece of his divine light behind - and it is shining in our hearts, as brilliant and as bright as the sun.

We are now, as he was in life, touched by greatness.