Farewell, Mark

Mark Metzger & Mark Merenda (1950-2017) on the streets of San Francisco
Mark Metzger & Mark Merenda (1950-2017) on the streets of San Francisco

It started as a ruse.

I was a young lawyer, with a young practice (read: poor), and I had no money to hire him and his company to help me market my law firm. I did, however, have enough money to buy a couple of drinks. I decided that I would invite him to speak at this conference that I was putting on in Orlando to give a presentation on marketing. We had already hit it off sharing our love of Boston sports teams.

You see, it was a conference about using Macs in your law office, but if I spun it the right way…Macs were about having good taste, and having good taste was about tastefully marketing your practice.

If you don’t stare at it too long, it holds up — or it did long enough for him to accept my invitation. The plot was hatched. I would invite him to have a drink after his presentation (I’d scheduled his session for the last of the day) and with the last few dollars I had, I’d try to wrestle some marketing genius from him.

Those of you who knew him well can guess the rest of the story. First, he stayed with me at the bar for hours, giving freely of his knowledge and advice. Second, he paid for the drinks.

He always paid for the drinks.

In the years that followed, I became, perhaps, his most treasured client. It certainly seemed that way, since I must have spoken to at least three dozen lawyers looking to hire him.

I ended every conversation the same way,

“You might think you’re hiring a marketing firm, but you’re really hiring the most loyal friend you could ask for. He’s going to be more invested in your success than you are, and he’ll ride the roller coaster with you.”

More than a few understood the value of a friend with a big heart on the journey of owning your own law firm, and there were many lives that he touched through his business — including my own.

In the early years, when times were lean and the outlook uncertain, he helped stand me up when the world looked to run me over. He never refused my request for help, and offered everything he had in his arsenal to help me turn the tide. Sometimes that was advice, the services of his company, a loan, his connections…but it always revolved around his friendship and his commitment to help.

He gave his friendship generously. I wasn’t the only one to feel that. Search his Facebook page and you’ll see dozens of people reflecting the same friendship after his passing. It was said that if you wanted to find him, follow the trail of $20 bills…which sometimes arrived in the form of warm words to friends in distant places. I appreciated how warmly he embraced my mother as they both helped me with that little conference in Florida.

I am also grateful that I was able to give back that friendship, too — whether it was accompanying on the ups and downs of his business, or during the passing of his mother.

He was a talented writer, and an incisive poet. He was proud of those skills. I was flattered that he thought enough of my writing skills to ask me to help edit his more popular pieces, such as the multiple times he wrote about his son.

And then there were the stories.

He was a gifted story-teller with an encyclopedia of stories. If you were close enough to him, you got to hear the stories. All of the stories. Sometimes half a dozen times. The same story. Half. A. Dozen. Times.

But, you laughed every time because he was laughing too.

We hosted a well-liked podcast together that went on for a couple dozen episodes. He insisted I get top billing. I insisted that he do most of the talking…which was good because he had a lot of stories, and a lot of wisdom to share. Those that listened learned a lot from what he shared.

His words stuck with me, such as:

“A necessity is a luxury that you’ve enjoyed more than once.”

I learned that one the expensive way when I got to fly First Class twice on a flight longer than 4 hours. I haven’t flown anywhere over 4 hours in years, since I can’t afford First Class…which I now need.

Or, another one on travel:

“Don’t walk when you can take a shuttle. Don’t take a shuttle when you can take a taxi. Don’t take a taxi when you can take a limo.” 

That one came after I made him take the shuttle with me instead of a taxi from the hotel to the airport. (You see, it was only a five-minute ride and the shuttle was empty, I reasoned.) It turned into one of my favorite adventure stories as the shuttle swelled to “standing-room only”…and we were the last stop on the route.

As you might guess, he wasn’t a “man of the people”; he’d be the first to admit as much. While he could talk to anyone about anything, he enjoyed the finer things in life, including his kir royals from the bar.

I’m comforted by the thought that he’s probably already started sharing his stories, wherever he is. I know there were a few stories he’s been saving for his brother, Guy.

I hope I see you again, friend.

And, Bags…if I do…I’m buying the first round.