Daniel J. Rourke passed away last week, but his life and his spirit did not. They will be everlasting.
You see, to know Dan was to recognize that he was a contagious carrier of the sprit of life as it should be experienced. He infected nearly everyone he touched in a way that will live on in their lives for as long as they live. Once infected by Dan, there was no cure. You became a willing host for his vision to expect the best and see the best in people.
I was lucky enough to be one of those infected by Dan’s spirit of life and like all others, I was the better for it. Those who knew Dan well – and I like to think that I did – soon learned that he had a secret mission in life. Dan was like the highly talented sports figure who becomes a true super star; not because of how successful he is himself, but because he makes those around him better than they imagined that they could be. Dan wanted to be friends with everyone, but more than that, he was on a mission to help everyone he met be better than they thought they could be. A relationship with Dan was based on a simple exchange: If you would be his friend he would do all he could to make your life better.
Everyone who knew Dan has a large catalog of “Dan stories” to explain how they were better for knowing him. Like the others, my experiences with Dan are too numerous to list in this short space, but please understand and indulge me as I offer just a few thoughts from my memories of Dan. I am sure that those who knew Dan will nod in knowing agreement as they read these memories.
I first met Dan Rourke on Tuesday, September 11, 1984. I remember that date, because it was a day that had the single largest impact on my business life, from that time forward. At the time, I was president of ITT Life. One of the ITT Life marketing executives came to me that morning with a spur-of- the-moment request for me to have lunch with a guy he was attempting to recruit to build an independent marketing organization for ITT Life in Arkansas.
It was unusual for me to meet with someone who was in the very early stages of building a marketing organization. But, the guy recruiting Dan told me “he was something special” and asked me to help in the recruiting. Little did I know that by the end of the lunch, I would be the one who was recruited. By about half-way through the lunch I was smitten and had decided that Dan was not the one to build a marketing company in Arkansas. Dan did not know it and was not looking for it, but when I walked away from that first meeting, I was determined that Dan should be the one to lead the entire marketing efforts of ITT. And – as they say – the rest is history.
I like to tell the story that even though the Hartford (the company that ITT Life reported to) executives told me not to hire Dan, because at 56 they felt he was too old, I hired him anyway. Then selfishly, as I began to make plans that would eventually evolve into LifeUSA, I did all I could to “hide” Dan from the Hartford. Concerned that even the dolts at Hartford could not help but recognize the depth of Dan’s talent, I was convinced that if I left ITT to start LifeUSA, they would hire him to replace me. And, the last thing I wanted or needed was compete against Dan.
To understand the type of man Dan was, you only have to know that when I approached him to help me form LifeUSA, he agreed to do so before I could finish the question. Here was a man who – through no fault of his own – had suffered through career turmoil and upheaval. And even though his career had stabilized, he was willing to chuck it all and follow me to a new venture fraught with risk and where the potential for success was doubtful at best. Yet, despite the peril (and knowing that he probably would be too old to get a new job if we failed), he did not hesitate to step up and be counted. As was typical of Dan, he did not take this action for his benefit, but for mine. He actually believed he “owed” it to me.
Of course, like all of us, Dan’s strengths were sometimes his weaknesses. Without fail, Dan always saw the best in people and was often blinded to their faults. It was legend at LifeUSA that when Dan returned from a recruiting trip he would burst into the office and announce that he had just met and recruited the guy who would be “the number one FMO for LifeUSA!” You see, in Dan’s mind every one had the potential to be number one. It is how he saw people.
Unfortunately, Dan’s always-positive attitude toward people made him susceptible to those who lacked the talent and integrity he possessed. Such people could and did take advantage of Dan’s desire to be friends with everyone and his penchant to always think the best of people.
In later years, there were those who lacked the talent and integrity of Dan and they, despicably, appealed to Dan’s need to be friends with everyone. They used him to cash in on his credibility and respect, the admirable qualities they could never earn for themselves.
There was no doubt that I and others were disappointed when Dan succumbed to the insincere and deceitful effort of others who blatently exploited Dan’s total (if sometimes naive) belief in people. But, we knew Dan and while we could not condone, we could understand. This did not lessen our respect, appreciation and gratitude for Dan. We knew the fault was not with Dan. After all, Dan was only being Dan. He was trying to help people. No, the fault falls to those who used Dan because they could never be to anyone what Dan was to everyone.
No matter the uneasiness created by these issues, they pale in comparison to what Dan meant to me and always will. I could go on and on about what Dan did to make my life better, but of all that Dan did for me, the most important thing he did was to make me want to “be like Dan.”
We have every right to feel sadness at the loss of Dan in our lives. However, the reality is how happy we should be that we were allowed to be friends with him. He would wish for no more as a legacy. The world would be a better place if all of us would honor the memory of Dan Rourke by making the effort to be more like Dan.