As I shared in my Father's Day post a couple of years ago, Ken was one of my first and most demanding mentors, 1 of the people most responsible for helping me to discover and hone my talents - and the one who always took me to task most bluntly any time I deigned to dream "small". When I said "professional flutist," he said "conductor - because you should be the one leading." When I said "Green Peace," he said "environmental lawyer - because you can make more lasting change from the inside."
Yet when I launched freedible, Ken's recipes (submitted anonymously as "Very Old Timer") were among the very first to appear in our community cookbook. Hand-written scribbles on grease-stained magazine clippings that I recognized from hanging on the inside of our kitchen cabinets at home were transformed into simple but accurate recipes. No photos, "no nonsense", no avatar "and none of that social stuff."
But I can see him now carefully looking up whether one could buy salsa without soy in it before hitting the "soy-free" tag – since the Ortega jar before him listed soy lecithin as an ingredient. "Fact" was one of his guiding principals. He was to the end a scientist – a brilliant biologist and physicist who nearly got a Noble prize and "ran" in circles with those who did before he moved on to be a pioneer in environmental regulation, together with my mother, when the Environmental Protection Act was first signed. Problems were like lunch to him.
From my earliest memories of him, he challenged me to take on bigger questions in whatever field interested me at the moment - and then laughed mischievously any time I suggested that there was an unmovable obstacle in the way. He simply didn't believe in those.
It was exceedingly painful to me that I was unable to spend more time with him in his last year. Between my children's needs, a challenging family move, my own health and our attempts to grow, it was tough to make the long trip. Last July, we spent a week together - it wasn't our last but it was the trip that he and I both approached as my real "goodbye" before the disease made it harder to see "the real Ken." When I arrived, Ken made clear that he would be calling the shots that week - and that he did not want to talk about challenges I was facing for my kids or my health, or to reminisce about my earliest memories of when he joined my mom and myself and made us a family again. And he certainly didn't want to hear about all he has meant to me.
No - he wanted to hear only about my most challenging business opportunities and problems, and the ins and outs of my faltering house sale negotiations. And then at 88, house-bound and on a respirator, he grabbed a pen and paper (complaining only that it wasn't a proper white board) and proceeded to map out solutions for them all. What he wanted was to give me one more gift of the kind he valued most: solutions to real world problems. And he adamantly insisted on sharing the ins and outs of his own career to make sure that I had learned all the lessons that I possibly could from it, with pointed tips on how to apply them to my own.
Now there are many, many more conversations that I wanted to have with him in that brief week - but he made clear that they were not the reason we had convened. He had fashioned the week in his image of how he wanted to send me forth. Saying goodbye was not on his agenda; preparing me to live on as his legacy was.
And so in some ways it is as if he took his place as chairman of the board - freedible's board, and more fundamentally, my own. Trying to prepare me just a little bit more to lead this charge, because it is the challenge that I chose. I guess I finally chose one big enough.
I think I'll pay tribute to him today by making some of his recipes - no pictures, but filled with love worth a thousand words.
I miss you, Ken.