A Tribute to Graham, my beloved dog.
Leadership is a lonely position. At the end of a work week or a long day, I’m often left alone to reflect on decisions of the days past and the plan for the days ahead. The notion of workplace friendship is oftentimes best constrained to the working hours. But, there is one friend always there and happy to see me, Graham, my beloved dog.
Nearly 18 years ago, I first met Graham. I was struggling with a transition period in life. My family saw the struggles and suggested that a dog could help remedy some of the void that I was experiencing.
Graham was a fur ball, covered in ticks and fleas. It was an odd feeling. Our connection was immediate. It was almost as though we met in a previous life. He was an old soul , and so off we went.
Like everyone, we have family, friends and pets during certain stages of our respective lives. For me, Graham was an inexplicably well-timed rock for critical developmental years in my life. From age 22 to age 40 he was a rock of sorts. During that time, he waited patiently while I discovered myself and the focus of my life’s work.
As the story would go, most of the clean energy experience was largely located in developing countries, or at least, the opportunities available to me at that time. This meant that my career was overseas and I’d no longer be with Graham. My parents were kind enough to oversee him while I was away.
I telephoned home and talk to my parents who would tell me stories of Graham’s adventures; oftentimes, “putting him on the phone” for me to tell him that I loved and missed him.
From time to time, I’d return back the United States to see my family and Graham. Each time became harder than the last. Giving him one last hug before heading to the airport each time was met with sadness and promises of returning home soon.
Finally, my work took me to London — a location whereby I could live with Graham. The quarantine process was long, expensive and detailed. But, I managed to fumble my way through transporting him to London. At first, he barely survived the transport. He had been left alone on the tarmac in Houston (in mid summer) for several hours. Dehydrated and on his deathbed at arrival, customs attempted to terminate him upon arrival in fear of rabies. Luckily, my father, a physician, was visiting at that time and was able to nurse him back to health. Graham and I reconnected. It was true happiness.
There are too many stories to share. There were a lot of tough times during those years; the stress of work and living in London in the finance sector during the great recession were real issues. I left it all to pursue a dream at Palmetto. Later came startup life and constant failure with modest success. There was a lot of excitement in those days, but equally met with the burden of shortcomings and regret. I hadn’t heard of emotional intelligence at that time, but Graham, a happy-go-lucky and overly relaxed eighteen pound shih tzu, always kept life balanced.
Herein lies the first reason why Graham made me a better leader: Presence.
Presence is living in the moment. While I frequently meditate, I oftentimes find myself overly reflecting on the past and, even worse, excessively planning for the future. Happiness comes from within a present mind. Graham, like most dogs, are present. The benefit of enjoying the moment is critical. This brings appreciation and better perspective on life’s accomplishments.
In the early days at Palmetto, he would travel to work everyday in the backpack while I rode a bike to work. Until one day, we were side swiped by a car. In his older years, he would sleep late and I’d return home during lunch to bring him to work. During our morning stand-up sessions, from time-to-time, Graham would walk upfront and turn to face the audience while I presented — as though he were the speaker himself.
Graham has many accomplishments in life. First, he had more nicknames than anyone I have ever known: Graham, Grahambo, Grahambosky, & Grahambino to name a few.
Graham had his own currency (the Graham Coin, which is a well known recognition coin within Palmetto, which I borrowed this idea from my great friend, Kyle Burks at STR Marketplace). Graham had his own movie production company (Grambo Productions) and was a lead character in a children’s book — One Foggy Night in London.
Of most importance, Graham was the co-founder of Palmetto. In reality, he was in many ways and helped bring a bond throughout the office and across the culture over a period of a decade.
From Louisville to London-to -Charleston-to-Seattle-to-San Francisco, Graham was a well travelled dog. He escaped certain death on five separate occasions; escaping the jaws of a pitbull and, on a separate occasion, a London “Staffy”. Once, on a hike, Graham fell behind the hiking pace. I looked back and Graham was staring at me, but staring at him was a coyote. I turned. I threw a rock at the coyote and he ran away. Graham turned as he heard the noise of the rock and then tried to chase the coyote. It was incredible my harmless Graham made it as long as he did. All the meanwhile, he was not scared nor did his demeanor change at all. He carried on with optimism and the sense that everything would be alright.
This is the second reason Graham made me a better leader: Relax.
Relax. Life is full of ups and downs. We need to be focused on what we can control and just keep moving forward. By large, with that perspective, we find peace with things that are outside of our control and live “lightly” without the heavy burdens of all things on our shoulders. We can find a happier life and better impact the people around us — so long as we can just relax.
I suspect we were on “borrowed time” for many of his last years. Together, we found adventure in all of it. I learned a lot from his patience, steadiness and relaxed nature. He complemented my anxiousness and eagerness, especially in the startup years. He made me a better leader and person.
His soul carries on and he will be greatly missed. Thank you for making me a better person and better leader. Rest in peace my little Grahambo.
Chris is an Environmentalist, Capitalist, Minimalist and the Founder and CEO of Palmetto. An avid hiker, fly fisherman as well as writer. Chris undertakes a series of projects — educational books, film production and charitable activities — to help educate all types of people, young and old, about the importance of climate change and the environment. He lives in San Francisco, CA and Charleston, SC. More can be found on christopherkemper.com