A Tribute to My Great Mentor

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Dr. Elmer Burack, my mentor, died Monday, August 13, 2012.  This is my tribute to Elmer.


When I read Elmer's obituary, every word is so true.  If the names were removed, I would say this reminds me of Elmer.  As you can see, he was a mentor to many people–a great mentor. Elmer put me on the path of Sage-ing.  When I get my book completed based on interviewing more than 100 thought leaders "Sages," I am dedicating the book to Elmer–my favorite Sage.


During the last few years, I knew Elmer's health was not strong.  I could tell in his voice that he was getting weaker and I felt him slipping away.  We did not talk as much and I did not receive letters as I had in the past.  But I kept writing him mainly to say "thank you" for changing my life.  I wanted him to know I remembered him and that I was eternally grateful. 

Ruth, his wife of 59 years, called me in early August to let me know that Elmer was not doing well.  I told her I was coming to Chicago during the Labor Day weekend so we decided I would visit at that time.  I felt a need to see Elmer again to thank him in person.  Then she called me on August 11th to tell me that Elmer was now in Hospice and they were saying his "vitals" were getting very weak.  I cleared my calendar, bought a ticket on the Megabus (which I value), so that I could get to Chicago on Wednesday morning because Ruth told me Elmer is better in the mornings.  In fact, we always talked in the morning.

Ruth called me on Monday night that Elmer had died.  At that time she was not sure when a service would be held.  I asked her if I could still come on Wednesday morning. Iin the decades I had known Elmer, I had never met Ruth in person.  I had written Elmer's address 100 plus times and never been to his place.  As I said in the last post, Elmer did not like email.  When I told him it would be easier if I could email papers to him.  His response was this, "The people who want to get in touch with me will call or mail.  I want to hear their voice or I want them to make an effort."  He thought email was too easy and there was too much "noise" created which wasted precious time.

This was a pilgrimage I wanted to make to say thank you and good-bye.

I got to Chicago on Tuesday night.  The next morning I borrowed my son's car in Chicago and drove to Northbrook to where Elmer lived.  Ruth and I talked for about an hour and she gave me a tour of their condominum.  It was nice for me to see family photos and the views Elmer would have had all around him.  He was my "Morrie" and I will never be the same without him in my life.

So many times in the past, I would ask myself "What would Elmer do?"  (WWED).  And I will continue to do so.  Elmer's legacy lives on in me and I will share what I learned from him with others. 

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I have written about the movie "The Way" about walking the El Camino de Santiago in Spain.  Going to Chicago was important to me as part of my life journey.  It would have been so easy to not go because of the work involved.  But it was a trip worth taking to tell Ruth in person how important Elmer was to me and my life–personally and professionally.

Without Elmer, the world seems less kind, less generous, less smart, less wise.  I will miss Elmer tremendously, but I will remember him forever. 

Thank you Elmer.


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  • Dave Baker

    Dr. Freed, I am very sorry to hear about the loss of your mentor and friend. What a wonderful legacy he has left with us though in the form of your teaching and leadership. I look forward to reading more about him when the Sage-ing book is completed.

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