I still am sitting with disbelief in some moments about Tony Hsieh dying. Saturday morning I got a text message with a news article saying he had died while visiting family. The stories and tributes from admiring fans and loved ones flood the internet, full of articulate and heartfelt memories and appreciation. It was and is unbelievable. I keep hoping I will wake up and figure it out somehow, and find myself back in Tony’s presence spontaneously dancing or doing whatever antics he’d bring. Even with his name in the subject of the Forbes email in my inbox today, a part of me wonders at times when and if I will wake up from this nightmare. I can’t help it. I guess denial is part of grief so it makes sense.
The nightmare is that a larger than life friend to many has been abruptly taken by death in a tragic accident. Death is easier to accept and cope with when it is abstract. Then when it hits close to home, it takes our life, plans, and sense of reality and changes it. This has felt like a punch in the throat/heart/stomach.
Many others have been closer to Tony for longer. He was a friend to me. I met him when Zappos and Downtown Project were clients. We hit it off pretty quickly.
Nervous to facilitate the chief executive of our key client, I was trying my best and outside of my comfort zone, learning about startups, fashion, and more about business in general. Early on Tony invited and tried to convince me to move to Vegas. I did not have a good excuse and he spread rumors that I was moving and brought it up in meetings to talk about it and put me on the spot. He was unrelenting when he had a vision.
A bit later in our friendship I might text him how you doing or thinking of you. Come to Vegas he would say. Or when are you coming to Fergusons? I would think about when I could make the next trip…and why I was not there now. His efforts at including me in outings, connecting with new people, and family style meals were consistent, as I would visit and connect with old friends from prior visits and other visitors in my temporary cohort. I would often extend my trip. I took time off and didn’t know what to do and he told me Come to Vegas. I did. I was so glad.
There were animals and often a family atmosphere. We would walk around and check in and say hi to people and the chickens or Marley or whatever in the time available. Even if Tony wasn’t around I would spend time with his friends, whoever else was around, and of course Marley and Blizzie. Tony was so warm and concerned with people’s needs and well-being. I saw him always feeding people, and often making soup. I would text him after I landed and was on the way to the trailer park or before that to his apartment. There is soup. Or pizza’s here. Help yourself he would say.
One time I had a migraine and he picked me up with his bus and asked if I needed anything so I could come to the Zappos company party. I was going to stay in my trailer and rest. He convinced me I could rest and hydrate on the bus, and I got dressed and went. A group of people was on the bus as this happened.
The last exchange we really had was typical Tony, wondering how I was doing and trying to help. It started from an accidental group text from him to his house keeper, so I had to respond and then we got into a conversation. Tell me your passions work and non work and I will brainstorm ways we can work together, he texted. We hadn’t spoken in more than a year, but that did not matter. He was ever supportive. I worked on the passions and sent them to him.
When we weren’t playing around or connecting, it felt like we were debating. I learned to understand this is how he loved. This is how he cared. It hurts so much to think that we won’t be together again in this life. No more texts instructing me to come to a place at a time not knowing anything else or late night jams or llama bus cigarettes. It feels overwhelming and impossible to articulate what his life and friendship meant even if I had not visited him for a while. He will always be an unlikely and special friend. A complete surprise. May his spirit live on in the best possible way.
I am continuing to remember and celebrate Tony, and learn from our short dance together. Here are a few things which he taught me.
- Be yourself. There is no other you. The world needs You. Tony went out of his way to encourage and support me and many other people. And the world needs you now.
- Share what you have. Whether it is your attention, your home, or a meal, share what you have. Tony was always offering resources, hosting, and sharing. Sharing creates more connection. I met friends I never would have made if it were not for all Tony shared.
- Play. There were puns. Magic. Dancing. Every day. As adults we often overlook this need.
- Stay focused on you priorities. Tony was always focused on whatever his priority was, often connection, an event, or orchestrating multiple meetups.
- Learn. Tony was always sharing whether it was an app that helped him or taking square pictures on the iPhone or how he was structuring his day or what he was reading.
So grateful to have had the honor. Rest in peace friend.