I received the sad news last week that Charlie Seashore, one of the pioneers in our field of organization development (OD) passed away on January 20th having suffered from kidney disease for some time. This is a tragic loss for the field of OD – and quite frankly for all mankind – and will be felt by many for years and years to come.
For those of you who are not OD practitioners or perhaps simply didn’t have the good fortune of sharing a conversation with Charlie and his wife Edie over the years, Charlie is one of the kindest, selfless, and caring men you could ever meet. He had a clear passion for making a difference in the world, although he seemingly did so without any pomp and circumstance or need for personal recognition. Instead, Charlie made a difference simply through his conversations with one person – and frequently with one group – at a time.
I won’t pretend to be an expert in all that Charlie did in his life nor will I try to chronicle his many accomplishments and accolades here myself. You can read all about Charlie and his work through a quick Google search yourself. Instead, I will simply offer one of my fondest memories of Charlie along with possibly the greatest lesson I ever learned from the man.
It was October of 1995, and I chose to attend the annual OD Network conference, an event that convened the largest association of practitioners in the field, as I settled into my second year of graduate school. Since I was just starting my career in OD, I arrived in Orlando, Florida that Saturday morning knowing nobody but my mother who lived 2 hours away in Ft. Myers and would not be able to keep me company for 5 more days. So for 5 days, I pushed my introverted self to meet some like-minded folks and find a place in this new community – one I’ve come to call “home” over the past 17+ years! Well, I had no idea what was in store for me until the final closing event.
Picture about 500 people all sitting in a big circle in a huge hotel ballroom eager to gain their final learning before returning home. To my surprise, someone orchestrated an inclusive activity that symbolically gave birth to a new OD family. Three generations of this family were invited to the center of the circle – grandparents, parents, and children. Can you guess who was selected to be the grandfather and who was the grandson? I don’t know why Charlie and I were brought together at that time or in that way. To be honest, I’ve stopped asking. I’m just so glad that we were!
I suppose it’s appropriate then that my greatest lesson learned from Charlie was not “self as instrument” nor was it about any other OD practice or tool. It was simply about love. You see, it takes a very confident yet humble man to be willing and able to be vulnerable and present with others – friends and strangers alike. Having been divorced twice now, I’d offer it took me a little longer to learn this lesson than it did for Charlie. His more than 40-year marriage with Edie is a testament to his deep, deep love of life and love for others. And anybody who ever saw Charlie and Edie lead a workshop together knows first-hand that Charlie’s mission in life was to be the co-pilot and support Edie in all that she did. Not because he was any less capable or talented than her. Simply because being right is not always being right, and when you’re willing to listen rather than speak first it creates the space for even greater learning.
Edie, my heart and prayers go out to you, your daughters, and the whole Seashore family during this very difficult time. Please know that Charlie did make a difference – one that he may have never recognized, one that I for one am honored to recognize for him. He will forever be remembered as a pioneer as we all forever celebrate his life!
If you’d like to experience a little of Charlie and Edie’s generosity for yourself, please click on any of the links below to view short video clips of the two of them discussing the past and future of OD at an exclusive fireside chat hosted by Plus Delta at the 2009 OD Network conference in Seattle. This may have been the first time Charlie and Edie left me feeling like a peer instead of a grandchild, and I will forever be indebted to both of them for so freely sharing their wisdom with us.
Rest in peace Charlie. Rest in peace.