Add up a few years and bad things will happen, but this one hits close to home. Don Wrege was a Culture Foundry original, there at the very start of the company along with me, Trevor and Colin. It wasn’t our first rodeo either. Don was also part of the early team at XOR and despite all that we were game to work together again.
Don was also a friend and an irrepressible creative force. He anchored the funnest (and funniest) corner of any room, with a sense of humor that usually skirted the ragged edge of disaster to the delight and momentary horror of nearly anyone in earshot.
“Did he really just say that?” I’d ask.
“We love our Don,” Trevor would say.
That’s how Don brought you along – it was all from, as Don liked to say, “a place of love.” You were always in on the joke, with Don himself – or the occasional executive – playing the foil.
But there were things Don took very seriously. In the age of internet casual, he wore suits to important client meetings (albeit with a bolo tie). He cared deeply about the success of clients, shouldering their concerns and insisting they be addressed. He cared deeply about the people around him, praising them, promoting them and introducing them to each other. He was profoundly empathetic. He was decidedly in your court.
He was also a polyglot of creative skill, with the collision of music, humor and media being his sweet spot. Those skills and his trademark obsessiveness led Don to the epicenter of nearly every media quake of his lifetime: MTV, the internet, talk radio, reality TV. Taking fake Ozzy into the Kentucky Derby infield was a particularly dangerous game, but hey, ragged edge.
Yeah, lifetime. You can tell where this is going. Last week, twelve years after joining Culture Foundry and four years after retiring, Don died peacefully in his sleep in his Boulder home at the age of 69. He was by all accounts happy and healthy right until the end. The echoes of the shockwaves outlined just how far his influence had reached.
Don had the kind of energy that seemed like it would power him for decades yet. Now instead of seeing Don again, his friends will see each other as we gather around the campfire of “did he really say that?” stories. The lesson there is obvious, but it always seems to be a lesson we learn the hard way.
Thanks Don, for the stories, the jokes, the music and the time we did get. We loved our Don.
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