ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Patrick McKenna was born in Kansas, at the end of the Cuban missile crisis. He delivered newspapers, played baseball and enjoyed an idyllic childhood in Schenectady, New York. Along the way, he also became an actor, a lawyer, a judge, and finally a global communication consultant who taught Fortune 500 executives to negotiate and close colossal deals. He made lists in church basements and coached baseball.
The cost of living with Lou Gehrig’s Disease trumps even the most resilient retirement plans. And so, like Ulysses Grant before him, Patrick spent the last few months of his life writing this book in an attempt to replenish the coffers and to express love and affection for his wife Elisabeth, son Jack, and daughter Anne .
Anne Elizabeth and John Harlan "Jack"
On November 15, his bucket list complete with the results of the presidential election, Patrick McKenna set off in search of the answer to life’s ultimate question. He promised to send back signs and messages, if possible.
Patrick was born in Lawrence, Kansas, on November 2, 1962, right after the Cuban missile crisis. Although unaware of his good fortune for decades, Patrick hit the privilege trifecta the day he was born a white, straight, male citizen of the U.S.
Patrick’s parents, the late John J. McKenna and Meritta Eileen (Webster) McKenna, settled in Schenectady, New York, where Patrick enjoyed a mainly idyllic childhood. He was probably among the last kids to play cowboys and Indians, and he always chose to be the Indian, evincing an affinity for underdogs and an antipathy toward bullies that would echo throughout his life.
As a child, he worked a paper route, played baseball with his friends Walter and Jamie, and knew to head home when the streetlights came on. In his senior year of high school, the seeds of his later social activism were gently and unwittingly planted by his sweetheart, Judith Willison; her mother, Esther; and their gang of liberal friends who didn’t take themselves too seriously – a rare breed, even then.
Patrick graduated from Linton High School and Siena College, and in his 20s and 30s while working at RPI in Troy, NY he helped develop the nation’s first boarding house for homeless people with AIDS. The project required a precedent-setting federal lawsuit, an experience that inspired Patrick to attend Albany Law School and co-found the nation’s first AIDS Law Clinic.
After his first year of law school, Patrick married Sally O’Connor and helped raise her two beautiful sons, Jake and Dylan, then 6 and 4. He coached their Little League teams, became an assistant Boy Scout leader, and invented what he considered his greatest artistic accomplishment – a font that Dylan called “Santa’s old-fashioned handwriting.” Patrick believed this ploy extended the Santa ruse for at least a year.
After graduating with honors from Albany Law School, Patrick served a term on the law school’s board of trustees and joined the office of the Rensselaer County Public Defender, where he established the county’s Alternatives to Incarceration program. The same year, Patrick was granted a fellowship from the Rockefeller School of Public Policy to study criminal justice reform. He taught constitutional law at The Sage Colleges, where, with Dr. Stephen Schechter, he took a class to Washington, to attend President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration.
Patrick briefly considered a career in politics and served as the state director of the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan fiscal policy think tank. But with a young family to support, he ultimately decided to defer public service and join the law firm of Ruberti, Girvin & Ferlazzo. While at the firm, he was named to the inaugural class of Forty Under 40 for the Capitol District.
Patrick continued to keep his hand in politics, however. In 1996, he helped elect Mark Pattison mayor of Troy and served on the transition team. Patrick also served a term on the city’s Board of Ethics and advised the mayor on hiring a police commissioner. Patrick worked on both Obama presidential campaigns as a voter protection attorney in Ohio.
In 1998, Patrick’s sweet girl, Anne Elizabeth, was born, followed in 2000 by his son, John Harlan, named for the first Justice Harlan, the sole dissenter in Plessy v. Ferguson. Patrick’s greatest desire was to be a dad, and he is proud that his children are his legacy. He wrote his book, A Few Things Before I Go, for them, weaving together memories, advice for young professionals, and life lessons from his career.
After representing the American Cancer Society in the tobacco settlement, and on the cusp of making partner at his law firm, Patrick was hired as the cancer society’s general counsel. He spent 12 years running its legal operations and leading large projects that continue to benefit cancer patients and their families to this day. He was a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.
In 2014, Patrick joined Templar Advisors, a global consulting firm, where he found his professional sweet spot providing executive coaching to captains of industry and Fortune 100 companies, including McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Aon, and Warburg Pincus. Through Templar, Patrick also taught at London Business School and Harvard Business School.
Patrick’s good fortune exploded when he met Elisabeth (Libby) Trissel, a senior project manager at AT&T in February 2018. Although they were connected on social media and had spoken by telephone, Libby and Patrick did not meet in person, fall madly in love, and get married until after Patrick had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease in December 2017. He continued working at Templar for six months after his diagnosis, which was ultimately the cause of death.
The couple made the most of the limited time they had. While Patrick was still able to work, Libby flew to New York City frequently, and he flew to Denver. They used the time to see great Broadway shows and eat delicious food, and on March 22, 2018, Patrick proposed to Libby in the most elaborate and romantic way possible -- surprising her with a Brooklyn Bridge serenade of John Legend’s “All of Me,“ accompanied by musicians and backup singers from the Harlem Gospel Choir.
Once Patrick could no longer work, he and Libby worked their way down the items on his bucket list. They traveled to Mexico, Canada, Alaska, and throughout Southern Europe, particularly falling in love with Portugal. They went to Washington D.C. twice to visit his daughter Anne, who was attending college there, and on April 23, 2019, they visited the Supreme Court to watch oral arguments in Department of Commerce v. New York, the case deciding whether the 2020 Census would include a citizenship question. That same day, Patrick realized his dream of being sworn into the Supreme Court Bar. Most of their other trips were dedicated to watching Patrick’s beloved St. Louis Cardinals play baseball games in various cities – St. Louis, Washington D.C., Denver and Seattle. On their last trip, in September 2019, they went to St. Louis for the final three games of the National League Championship Series, which the Cardinals won. Although by then Patrick could no longer move his limbs, his thousand-watt smile lit up the ballpark that day.
No longer able to travel after that final trip, they settled into a quiet routine at home in Denver: Patrick wrote his book using a Dynavox with eyegaze technology, Libby worked, and they both read books, kept up with current events, and watched tons of British television series. Patrick particularly fell in love with Would I Lie to You, especially when one of the guest panelists was Bob Mortimer, who could make them laugh endlessly.
Although ALS robbed him of his body and his voice, Patrick remained purely himself to the end – smart, witty, charming and handsome. He was a voracious learner throughout his life, but in his last months, while writing his book, he realized that he had learned the most from his mistakes.
Patrick is survived by his adoring wife, Libby; his children, Anne and Jack; his mother, Meritta; his brothers, Brian and Andrew; and a host of cousins, nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his father John in 2010 and his sister Carol in 2018.
The arc of the moral universe bent some during Patrick’s 58 years. He left wishing he could keep on helping, but ALS was in no mood to negotiate.