The Week: What Caught Our Eye

December 17, 2022

IMG-5960.JPGJeff Killeen never stopped marveling at the beauty of Lake George and captured it regularly in photos he shared with Facing Out. (Jeff Killeen)

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas. Blessings be with you during the Festival of Lights and always.

Regular readers know of our deep affection for that special place known as Lake George, N.Y. We’re not alone. Lake George has many friends, old and new, fair weather and constant, well-to-do, and often influential. 

This week it lost two of its very best friends. Two of its most capable boat-rockers. 

Jeff Killeen recognized the global importance of Lake George and was all about the science, policyJeffK_FrankD.jpg and politics of protecting the lake. Frank Dittrich was devoted to making Lake George a preeminent year-round vacation destination. What made them great leaders was that they woke up every day possessed of the sunshine of optimism — and a gnawing dissatisfaction. They wanted change. They wanted progress. They were impatient for it.

Jeff was the chairman of the Fund for Lake George and the Lake George Association. He became a driving force behind the establishment, with Dr. John Kelly of IBM and Dr. Shirley Jackson, then president of RPI, of The Jefferson Project, the most comprehensive real-time environmental data-collection effort on a freshwater lake anywhere. Jeff knew reliable data could guide sound decision-making and keep the politics to a minimum. He and Pete Menzies, then-chair of the LGA, led the effort to combine the lake’s leading protection organizations into a single, more efficient, more influential voice for good.

Jeff had come home to Lake George after a long, successful career running start-ups. He’d been a senior vice president with Dun & Bradstreet. He’d helped barnesandnoble.com grow from zero to $250 million in sales in less than two years. He served as the founding chief executive of forbes.com before founding and leading GlobalSpec, a major content provider for engineers. In the business press, he was hailed as “Top CEO,” “Most Visionary CEO,” and “Top 50 Digital Industry Leader.” 

Jeff was a big thinker, an energizer and a catalyst who brought urgency and excitement to every business and social cause he touched. 

Frank, too, stepped from the ranks of senior corporate leadership with GE, Thomson Multimedia, Westinghouse/CBS, Mellon Financial, and BNY Mellon. He was an IT genius, a systems guy fundamentally interested in figuring out how things worked and then improving them. Over the last several years, he and his extended family have become the largest owners of hotel rooms in the Lake George region, with more than 1,000 across many properties, including the Inn at Erlowest and the Courtyard Marriott in Lake George. He cared not just for his own family’s businesses but about all of the hospitality businesses in Warren County, recognizing that to attract, house, feed and entertain visitors, each business depends on the good work of many others. He also cared deeply about creating good, year-round employment opportunities for the people who staff the hotels, motels, restaurants and stores. He inspired his employees to better themselves and go to college. And he devoted his time to pressing Warren County to step up its tourim promotion game so that it was commensurate with the extraordinary visitor experience the community offers.

Frank was among the local business leaders who founded the Warren County Lodging Association. During COVID, he designed a systematic cleaning and sanitization protocol to help local restaurants and businesses keep their employees and guests safe. Frank’s system kept many businesses open and staffed and helped them survive the pandemic.

Both men were happy warriors for progress, charming, warm and witty agitators for good. They were disrupters, but diplomatic disrupters. Their business backgrounds made them comfortable with the discomfort of change. 

They rocked Lake George’s boat. Happily, cheerfully, unstintingly, with a twinkle in their eyes, they were rocking, always rocking.

Their deaths are a terrible loss for their beloved families and legion of friends. They are also a loss for a community that needs courageous leaders like Jeff and Frank and was benefiting from their smart, insistent, challenging leadership. 

Good boat rockers don’t come along every day. – Mark Behan

UP IN SMOKE: A massive fire at a New York Police Department storage facility in Brooklyn this week destroyed up to 30 years of evidence, including what NYPD Chief Jeffrey Maddrey called “a lot of biological evidence” collected from crime scenes. Eight people were injured. The fire at the Erie Basin Auto Pound took hours to bring under control. The facility also contained vehicles and cars, as well as personal property recovered after Hurricane Sandy. Police said rape kits are not stored at the facility.

JOB WELL DONE: Feed Albany, which grew far beyond its initial mission to provide meals for restaurant workers and other hospitality employees who lost their jobs when businesses were forced to close during in the pandemic, will serve its final meals and close at the end of the year. The organization, created the day after then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the closure of restaurant dining rooms statewide, distributed more than 1 million meals in less than three years, relying largely on donations and volunteers. Francesca Pardi, the group’s executive director, told the Albany Times Union that Feed Albany always was meant to have a limited lifespan. “We never thought we'd get as far as we've gotten,” she said. “It's been amazing.” Any cash left after the organization is dissolved will be donated to another local organization dedicated to addressing food insecurity.

GOVERNOR TO PRESIDENT: Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who’s leaving office in January after declining to seek a third term, will become president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association in March, replacing longtime president Mark Emmert. Baker, who played basketball one season at Harvard, is a former health care executive who has never worked in sports or higher education. He arrives at a time when the NCAA is still trying to adjust to a new normal in which athletes can be compensated, with athletic programs openly lobbying boosters to create multimillion-dollar pots of money with which to entice players. The chair of the NCAA Board of Governors said Baker “has demonstrated an appetite to take on really big and complex problems, as well as the ability to tackle them in remarkably effective and creative ways.” Baker, a Republican, is well thought of by people in both major political parties, and the NCAA is hoping his popularity will be beneficial in the battles ahead.

NEW LEADER IN CRIMSON: Claudine Gay, a widely admired higher education leader and distinguished scholar of democracy and political participation, will become the 30th president of Harvard University on July 1. The daughter of Haitian immigrants will be the first Black president in the institution's nearly 400-year history. Since 2018, Gay has been the Edgerley Family Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Under her leadership, Harvard in 2021 launched one of the world’s first Ph.D. programs in quantum science and engineering and began work on a state-of-the-art facility for the Harvard quantum community designed to integrate the educational, research, and translational aspects of the emerging field. She has also worked to create new pathways and lower barriers to working across disciplines.  

SARAH’S STORY: All Sarah Langs ever dreamt of was working in baseball. And here she is now, at just 29: A baseball researcher nonpareil, a media star sharing her fascination with the game with 74,000 followers on Twitter and in regular appearances on the MLB Network, SNY and ESPN’s Baseball Tonight podcast. As always, there’s more to the story: Sarah Langs announced Oct. 6 she has ALS, the neurological disease associated with Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig. There is no known cure. And yet there is still so much work to do. 

farmland.jpegFARMLAND PROTECTION: Owners of New York State agricultural land have a new funding mechanism to compensate them for keeping the land agricultural. A law just signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul will direct fees paid to the state by solar farm developers into an Agricultural and Farmland Viability Protection Fund, which will be distributed to farmland protection programs across the state. Previously, the fees went to the state’s general fund. Conservation easements, which pay landowners for agreeing not to develop property, have been around for a long time, though the price per acre historically is fairly low. 

FUSION FUSS: It was big news this week when scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California announced a thermonuclear fusion that created more energy than was needed to spark the fusion, which the U.S. Energy Secretary, Jennifer Granholm, called “one of the most impressive scientific feats of the 21st century.” Key elements of the work were done at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics. There is hope that the process can one day be used to produce completely emissions-free energy. That’s a long way off, but as National Geographic explains, the breakthrough at Lawrence Livermore demonstrates that it’s possible. 

NEVER MIND: Adam Weitsman, who built a billion-dollar scrap metal business in Syracuse, was under contract to buy a $17.9 million house in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., without ever having visited the property. The house, called Palazzo Riggi, was the home of socialite Michele Riggi and her late husband, Ronald, who died in August. When he put the house under contract, Weitsman said he would be spending more time at his Albany operations and wanted a home nearby. When Weitsman saw the house, he backed out, telling the Albany Times Union that it “wasn’t really a style that resonated with me.” The property is back on the market.

FREE WILLY: A 50-foot-high aquarium described as the largest of its type burst in the lobby of a Radisson hotel in Berlin on Friday, sending 264,000 gallons of seawater and 1,500 tropical fish cascading into the street, a life-imitating-art moment like the scene in the animated movie “Sing.” when Buster Moon’s grand “squid-powered” stage bursts. The fish in the aquarium died, either by suffocation or when they landed in the 19-degree outdoor air. Other fish housed in other aquariums that were at risk because the power went out in the hotel were rescued.  

FUNNY MAN: Adam Sandler, who started his career as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live” and whose film credits include such comedy staples as “Happy Gilmore,” “Grown Ups” and “Big Daddy, this week was named the 24th recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, one of the most prestigious honors in comedy. Sandler, who has credits as an actor, writer, producer, and songwriter, was often panned by critics, including one who wrote that his movies “take in millions, in inverse proportion to the wit of their scripts.” Audiences — and the Kennedy Center — obviously disagreed.

FILLING A GAP: Stafford Braxton didn’t think much about Santa when he was a kid. His family didn’t talk about it. He just knew that he had to be in bed by a certain time Christmas Eve, and when he woke, there would be presents under the tree. Years later, working as a photographer for a mall Santa, Braxton said families of color often asked for Santas that looked like them, a suggestion he passed along to mall management, who blew him off. So, Braxton took on the task himself, starting a company called Santas Just Like Me, recruiting Black and brown Santas to attend holiday celebrations. The joy he has experienced and the gratitude expressed by so many people more than make up for the racism he’s had to deal with.

SHOT FOR BRAINS: Richard Davis shot himself 192 times. Davis was the down-on-his-luck pizzeria owner who founded Second Chance, the company that made light-weight Kevlar vests that protect police officers, soldiers and even President George W. Bush. Second Chance had a rather inauspicious beginning. Davis was in a gunfight with some criminals and was wounded. He realized that a protective vest might have come in handy. He promoted his products by repeatedly shooting himself on video. Then things really got crazy, as a new documentary attests.

LIVES

STEVEN “tWITCH” BOSS was the beloved dancing DJ on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” joining in 2014 and being promoted to co-executive producer in 2020. He was a runner-up as a contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance,” and later served as a judge for the show. He posted dance videos on TikTok with his wife, also a professional dancer, with their three children making guest appearances. “Twitch brought joy and love to people all over the world through music and through dance. My heart is heavy today for his family and all of those who knew and loved him,” actress Kerry Washington wrote in tribute to Boss, who died by suicide at 40. 

COREY JONES was a former foster kid with a vision for housing in Albany’s South End, a major redevelopment project that would breathe new life into the community he loved. He had recently received bank commitments for the total amount needed to build The Seventy-Six, a $115 million mixed-use development in the neighborhood where he grew up. He drowned while fishing in a pond in northwestern Florida, according to his older brother, former Kansas City Chief Jeremy Horne-Murdock. He was 34. 

PAUL SILAS spent nearly four decades in the NBA as a player and coach, winning two championships as a player with the Boston Celtics and another with the Seattle SuperSonics. Known as a rugged defender and rebounder, Silas was a five-time all-defensive team selection and a member of the College Basketball Hall of Fame. He was the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003 when LeBron James, who called Silas “one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever been around,” made his NBA debut. Silas’ son, Stephen, now coaches the Houston Rockets. Paul Silas died of a heart attack at 79.

DOROTHY PITMAN HUGHES co-founded Ms. Magazine with fellow activist Gloria Steinem in 1971, building the periodical into a leading voice of feminist news and information. She had come to Steinem’s attention when she ran an innovative daycare center that Steinem profiled in New York magazine, and the two became fast friends and longtime colleagues. “I have been lucky to call Dorothy a friend and lifelong co-conspirator,” Steinem wrote in a tribute. “She encouraged me to speak in public, and we spent years traveling across the country. Her devotion to children’s welfare, racial justice and economic liberation means that she left the world in a better place than she found it.” She died at 84.

MIKE LEACH was one of a kind, a college football coach with varied interests who would riff at length on just about any subject and whose interviews were the stuff of legend. He also was an innovator, known for his Air Raid offenses that changed the college game — he coached quarterbacks with four of the nine highest passing yardage totals in history — and a mentor, with several of his former players and assistants now running their own programs. He was the head coach at Mississippi State, the third program he led, and was preparing his team to face Illinois in a bowl game when he died of complications from a heart attack at 61.

GRANT WAHL was the preeminent soccer journalist in the United States, spending 24 years at Sports Illustrated before launching “Fútbol with Grant Wahl” on Substack. He also appeared regularly on CBS, CNN and NPR. He made news at the beginning of the World Cup, the eighth he covered, when he wore a shirt with a rainbow design to one of the early matches to protest Qatar’s prohibition of the symbol, and was briefly detained before being allowed to enter the stadium. He was covering the match between The Netherlands and Argentina when he collapsed in the press box and died of an ascending aortic aneurysm at 48.

ALMOST FINAL WORDS

“Some of the most important nights of my life were spent trying to capture the wonder of the night sky. I never even dreamed of actually going up there.”
—    Documentary filmmaker Brendan Hall, who is among eight artists (from a pool of 1 million applicants) chosen by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa to accompany him for a six-day space flight, the goal of which is to inspire great works of art for humankind.

THE SIGNOFF

WANDER DOG: A 6-month-old Leonberger Bernese mix puppy named Bear slipped free of his collar in Manhattan and took off, running a mile along a bike path before jumping into the Hudson River and swimming to New Jersey, where he was found the next day near a pier. The puppy, a seizure-service dog for a young man with developmental disabilities, was reunited with his family a day later. 

OUR HOLIDAY BREAK: Happy holidays, one and all, and our best wishes for a healthy, interesting, and peaceful New Year. Facing Out will take the next two weeks off. We will see you again on January 7, 2023.

Some of the linked material in Facing Out requires a subscription to read.

THANK YOU TO OUR CONTRIBUTORS: Bill Callen, Ryan Moore, John Brodt, Claire P. Tuttle, Lisa Fenwick, Leigh Hornbeck, and Tara Hutchins.

FACING OUT is what we do. We help companies, organizations and individuals work effectively with their most important external audiences – their customers, their shareholders, their communities, the government and the news media.  www.behancommunications.com

Facing Out features news and other nuggets that caught our eye, and that we thought might be of value to you, our friends and business associates. Some items are good news about our clients and friends, others are stories that we hope will leave you a bit more informed or entertained than you were five minutes ago. As always, we welcome your ideas and feedback. 

Let’s make it a conversation:  mark.behan@behancom.com

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