A Tribute to Jeff Zaslow

He is a father. A husband. A terrific writer and storyteller. A mentor to many. A kind and witty person.

That was yesterday. Today, Jeff Zaslow is gone. The result of a tragic auto accident.

It makes no sense. The one who so beautifully told the world so many lessons of how to live, by capturing the thoughts of Randy Pausch, himself has died at far too young an age.

I met Jeff a number of times. I heard him speak and would see him at the grocery store. He thanked me for being a loyal and paying Wall Street Journal print customer, years before the digital world. And he truly meant it. He said without people paying for journalists, they would not be able to tell the stories that should be told.

Jeff became famous for telling the story of Randy Pausch, first by writing in the Journal about Pausch’s “Last Lecture,” then writing the book of the same title. But a key part to this story is that it was Jeff’s own initiative and instincts that enabled that story to be told. The Journal did not pay for him to fly to attend Pausch’s speech. Jeff was determined, and had the journalist’s sense, that this was a story that would be too important to miss. So he drove many hours, attended the lecture, and wrote an article, which resulted in the book which has affected and touched so many lives.

For me, the “Last Lecture” became even more meaningful when I re-read it over two summers with my then 11-12 year old daughter. We would sit on our favorite place on the reading couch, and read a few pages or a chapter at a time. We would have great and meaningful discussions about life, overcoming challenges and obstacles, and her goals and dreams. Through Randy’s lessons, and Jeff’s writing, my daughter and I grew so much closer.

I had just returned to Detroit after spending a week out of town, visiting with clients and prospective clients, when I heard the tragic news about Jeff. I had a great week, talking with these families and listening to them. We discussed their dreams, concerns, family backgrounds and shared many great meals. We talked mostly about the future. How we would help them to live and enjoy the future. And then the future became so immediate and crushingly quick to an end.

We all have to plan for the future….and hope that we are lucky to be able to live and enjoy it. It seems to be such a fragile balance at times.

So today I feel so much sadness for Jeff’s family, for his wife and his three daughters. Like Randy Pausch, Jeff will have left them a great legacy, but one that is inexplicably too short.

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