Brian was a veteran in the CME field. He was pharmacist who earned an MBA. A writer for American Druggist magazine. Associate Dean at the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy. President of CoMed Communications. President at the Institute for Continuing Healthcare Education. Board member for the North American Association of Medical Education and Communication Companies. (NAAMECC). Director of Medical Education for Roche Pharmaceuticals.
Brian built an enviable résumé. But more than that, he built friendships and respect. Whether you were a stranger or a longtime colleague, Brian never passed up the chance to share a compliment. After meeting the new CME director at Abbott, Brian said, “She's new to the field, but she's sharp and will build an excellent program.”
I met Brian in 2003, after one of my first speeches at a national CME conference. He waited until the room cleared out, looked at me plainly and said, “I liked the way you tackled this topic.”
Being Brian, he went on to explain where I could improve future talks on the topic. He recommended articles that would build a better case. He pointed out inconsistencies. But his feedback was always positive. No matter the weather, Brian's forecast was always sunny skies or silver linings. He didn't believe in rain.
Even after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Brian lived with optimism. He won the early battles and joked about having to “eat like a pig” in between the rounds of chemotherapy that would take away his appetite. After months of fighting and many days with family and home hospice care, Brian died on December 5, 2009. At 51 years, his life was too short. But Brian lived every bit of it well.
His wake was filled with pictures of him scuba diving and skiing, dancing and celebrating at his cherished New Year's “hat parties.” Among the pictures and memorabilia was a famous quote by Mavis Leyrer, an octogenarian from Seattle: “Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘Holy sh*t,’ what a ride!”
Brian enjoyed the ride and coached dozens of CME professionals along the way. Reading through the memorial comments from his former employees, colleagues, and friends, a wonderful pattern emerges. “He was my mentor.” “He's the reason I am where I am today.” “He was always there to lend a helping hand.” “I learned a lot from Brian.” “You touched my heart with your kindness and sense of humor.” “It was an absolute pleasure to work for him.”
How do you summarize the life of Brian P. Russell? Was it his intellect or gentle manner? His ability to lead or lift others up? His knack for clear analysis and vision or love of a good time? His serious work ethic or that quintessential Brian laugh? Call it what you want. But “grace” might be the most fitting.
Stephen M. Lewis, MA, CCMEP, is president of Littleton, Colo.-based Global Education Group. He can be reached at email@example.com.