The Wisdom and Memory of Chris Walker, “from the grave”


My friend and fellow CEO Clubs Lifetime Member, Chris Walker, passed away at the end of August.  Chris was brilliant, super successful in business, humble, generous, and perhaps one of the most intellectually curious people I have ever met.  There are not enough words to describe Chris, but in short, he was a unique and amazing person.

Here is a nice tribute to Chris from the International Dark Sky Association.

Chris was young at heart, and young in age.  He was only 66, but he had the strength and energy of someone 26.  He left the earth too soon, with so much more to do and experience, and so much more influence to have on it.  He wrote a touching farewell letter to his friends, filled with advice and wisdom.”  I took the liberty of highlighting some passages.

“This will be read at my funeral. I’m not sure when it will take place, or where. But you are invited. 


When I’ve gone to funerals, I thought too much time was spent trying to characterize the deceased or to recycle liturgy from the past. Now that it’s my turn, I’m asking your indulgence to explain myself straight from the horse’s mouth. After all, its my party and I’ll cry if I want to. As the song says, you would cry too, if it happened to you.

In saying goodbye to you today, I wanted to dispel some myths.

The first is that you can’t speak from the grave. That may be strictly true, but I always like to have the last word. That’s why I have tried my hand at writing. And here I have it both ways.

Another myth is that I would be late to my funeral. As an advocate for an overscheduled life, I heard this phrase often. However, I would call to your attention that I beat you all to it. For one of the first times in my life, I am early to a gathering. So there. Never be too smug about forecasting the future. 

I hope that this occasion is one for good fellowship. Only a few fleeting tears are allowed. This is a time for joy, to celebrate a life that I feel, looking back, was well spent. I suppose it would have been possible to make a few smarter decisions from time to time, but overall, I am well satisfied at how things turned out. All you can ask out of anyone is to play the cards they have been dealt. We live life forward, and the past is only a guide to what is to come. Like Harry Truman, I don’t regret very much and didn’t spend much time reviewing what-if scenarios. Every experience, whether momentarily pleasant or unpleasant, teaches us, and is valuable for that alone. I’ve learned not to let success or failure bother me too much. And remember, what goes around, comes around.  And in our lifetime typically. No reincarnation apparatus is necessary. Be nice to yourself by being nice to others. 

In truth, my life turned out to be more pleasant, and stimulating, than I ever imagined as a child. The reason for that was that the marvelous progress of our civilization has given capabilities to each of us that we could scarcely conceive when younger.

It was also my good fortune always to have the resources to do what I wanted, at every stage. I was born rich, I lived a rich life, and I died rich. Being rich means being able to spend your time as you please. What more can anyone ask for? Each of you is richer than you think, by the way. 

Now it is true that I didn’t live as many years as I would have liked, but to confess, any amount of time would have been too short. In the context of a 13-billion-year-old universe, any lifetime is immaterial. I learned that the best attitude was to want the right things, but not to want them too much. To stay alive is a desire, but doesn’t last forever. We do not choose to come into this world, and have quite limited control over when we leave. Life is a mixed game of skill and chance, and the chance element can never be eliminated. Death is the price of life, so don’t waste your time. 

For you the living, figure out what you want to accomplish and don’t put it off too long. Even if everything you can think of dying from is miraculously curable, you still don’t have that many more years. Time is passing more quickly as we age, don’t you agree?

I believe in double entry accounting for time. We lead life forward, but we must do a balance sheet measuring time and looking backward. Figure out your goals and how much time you have to accomplish them, and make sure you get started early enough to produce what satisfies your standards. 

As life progressed, I developed some guidelines.

The first is to have fantasies. I believe in them strongly. I also believe in fantasy fulfillment. Then moving on to the next set. I believe in desire, and satisfying desire. I differ from the Buddhists in this regard. The really important ones are internal and self generated. Establishing your own standards, learning more through the years, and raising the bar for the next round, is a good process for everyone. It’s really irrelevant what others are up to. I tried never to let the madding world distract me too much from what I believed in. Following where my mind led me, unfettered by conventional wisdom, was a good strategy. 

My mother said that when she hit 70, she was going to speak her mind regardless of what others thought. I adopted her wisdom earlier, and never regretted that attitude. 

My father’s best advice, which I also adopted, was to deal with people as individuals. Not by titles, nor the age, nor the appearance, nor the group identity. Find out what makes a person tick and deal with that reality. 

The world is composed of distinctive personalities. It takes work to dig out an individuals essence, but it is worth it.. Just what is going on with this person? When I am talking; what is being heard?

I enjoyed this world with a lot of variety built in. It’s endlessly entertaining if you live with the right spirit.  

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, I wondered all through my adult life whether it is true that our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. There is much wisdom in that aphorism. Regardless, I felt the best approach in management and dealing with people generally, is to bring out the strengths, and overlook the weaknesses. What good does it do to complain about behavior or attitudes in others when they have so much to offer on the positive side?

We spend too much time in school studying the acquisition of power. We read books about one war after another. Power for what? The only real power we have, or should aspire to, is the power to lead a proper life by our own standards, and the power to help others achieve what is in their own best interest, according to their own standards. This is all. Anything else is hubris. 

Finally, I commend some time on the road. In the course of a lifetime I saw most of the beauty spots on our lovely planet. This took about three years worth of steady travel. Break it into bite sized intervals. But do it, even if it takes time or money you might hesitate to spend. 

It is a long way to the next planet, and so much to see here. I’ve always believed in staying somewhere until I felt at home, and only then moving on. How well do you know your home planet and its many beauty spots?

Mobility is godlike. Imagine the power to go wherever you wish either on your own power, or by taking advantage of the wonderful travel tools at your disposal. Everything you need can be brought along or acquired on the way! Be divine and move around. 

I was treated, as a total stranger, with marvelous care by everyone I met in the course of my journeys. They provided me with lots of precious moments and treasured memories. 

Another useful lifestyle habit was to split my time between the tried and true and the unknown. I use the 80/20 rule. 80% of my time was spent plowing the same fields, bringing in the harvest in predictable ways. The other 20% was devoted to journeys to unknown places with unpredictable outcomes. This constant openness to novelty made every day one I looked forward to.

In terms of material possessions, I decided to live rich and die poor. There are those who say that we arrive with nothing and leave with nothing, but that is not strictly true. In our Second Age civilization, and for those of higher order, every newborn is entitled to a fair start, either by private means or public. Food, basic education, and competent adult supervision are essential for a child. As an adult, though, I believe we must earn our living from the voluntary exchange of goods and services with our fellow man. The state exists only to facilitate this activity, not to replace it. I arrived with a lot, in the form of good parents, and left with nothing. Most of us will make a net contribution to society and that is why I am optimistic that our civilization will progress and that individuals in the future will be able lead more fulfilling lives. I want to publicly thank all those whose past inventions and achievements made the wealth of my life possible.

What is left over should be given away during your lifetime. Money means nothing unless it is properly placed. Giving away money is easier than acquiring it in the first place, but it still requires skill. Use the same skills you used to accumulate wealth when you dispose of it.  

Finally, as we close our time together, take note of your surroundings. Look for something you never noticed before. It is there, just waiting for you to touch it. That is the attitude I tried to bring to every day. 

I learned, not too late, that when doors shut, we see that others are open. In fact they were open all the time! Only I never noticed them! You have more options than you realize. 

Laugh a lot. Laughter is good for your health. The ability to inspire to laugh in others is among your most valuable talents. And laughing at the absurdity of some of life’s inevitabilities is our only practical way to protest. 

Having had a near-death experience in my midlife, I learned to be overjoyed at opening my eyes every morning and finding my senses still working. 

As the saying goes – 

Yesterday was history

Tomorrow is a dream. 

Today is a gift, and that is why we call it “the present.”

Thank you for coming to help me celebrate the end of my adventure. It is with great admiration and affection that I salute you, my friends, for the last time.”

R.I.P Chris.  Thanks for the memories.  You will be missed, my Friend.