Although I thought nothing of it at the time, a “moment” with a friend would turn out to be the beginning of his end.
The moment was in December 2006 and guests were enjoying our latest networking event. My friend Roland and I had planned it and were the hosts. Near the end of the night, Elmer Blackwell mentioned that he wasn’t feeling well – something I never heard him say as he was always full of energy. I could tell that he wanted to stay since he was never one to miss a fantastic night. He left shortly after our conversation.
Less than a week later, I received a phone call from a close friend of Elmer’s. The news was not good – Elmer was in the hospital and it was serious. Although the friend was vague, she left no doubt that his health had taken a significant blow. Elmer told her to call me. I later found out that I was one of the first friends he asked for.
When I received the call, I was tired and heading home from work. Despite only wanting to go to my apartment and relax, I immediately went to the hospital. It was soon clear that I made the right decision.
Entering Elmer’s hospital room was bittersweet. I was glad to be there as a good friend although my heart was heavy as he informed me that it had been a rough couple of days – days where he was fighting for his life. He seemed comfortable and we had a warm conversation. There was little doubt in my mind that his two years as an ex-pat in Stockholm were coming to a close.
I also saw the fighting spirit in Elmer that night as the ordeal he described could have easily killed him but he was determined to live.
Elmer and I shard many good times together whether it be with friends, at events or enjoying a fine dinner. One of the things I liked about Elmer was his spontaneity, often calling me the night before to see if I would join him or his friends for dinner. I appreciate when one is spontaneous so I usually joined him if my schedule allowed.
In addition, he was frequently open for organizing or participating in an event, including hosting gatherings at his own apartment. Two events at his home come to mind when I think of Elmer:
1) A social networking event in late 2005
Roland, Elmer and I organized this Friday, after work gathering and it was a fabulous mix of Swedes and foreigners – a mix that is far too infrequent and is sorely needed in Stockholm. We had great food, good music and most importantly, our guests met interesting people and engaged in diverse conversations.
2) A Halloween Masquerade Party in October of 2006
This night was of one of the best events that I have ever been associated with. Again, organized by the aforementioned threesome, it was an invitation only Masquerade party. The diversity of the costumes and guests exceeded our expectations. We even had a spontaneous “best costume” contest where participants proudly showcased their look, often dancing across the floor. As a host, it can be difficult to enjoy your own event although I loved every minute of this night!
Each year since our October party, someone has mentioned the event and it always brings a smile to my face. You can gain some aspects of the excitement at the link below:
Within a month after seeing Elmer in the hospital, he was stable and on his way back to the USA. I was happy that we both kept in touch after he left Sweden. He was frequently upbeat after a positive treatment in the USA although when his health was less than stellar, his emails reflected his tough battle.
Subsequent emails were tough to read as his battle with a rare form of cancer (Multiple Myeloma) was taking its toll on him. One day, the emails stopped.
Although our friendship was less than two years, Elmer was a man I liked and respected. He worked extremely hard as the CEO of 3M in Sweden yet still had super high energy outside of work hours. In addition, he was funny, smart and relentlessly upbeat and positive. His positivity was refreshing especially in a country like Sweden where such positivity is a rare thing. Also, he was genuine, never trying to be anything other than himself
Despite a strong fight for three years, the end finally came – Elmer died on September 18, 2009. If you want to read more about his life, you can visit the following link:
Elmer was a good man and a good friend. I was fortunate to know him and enjoy his friendship for two years. There is not a year that goes by when his smile, positivity or energy is not thought of. Had his health not deteriorated, I can only imagine how much fun my inner circle and I would have had with him. Life often confounds when a young life (he was 46) is swept away although I am grateful for our short time together.
Rest in Peace Elmer.
Happy Gswede Sunday!
The late Elmer Blackwell (left) and Gswede friend Kevin Ryan in 2006