Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Steve Kreseski

In the most recent, and much maligned, Indiana Jones film, Indy muses that he had reached the point at which life stops giving you things and starts taking them away.

Last week, I experienced a similar epiphany.

Steve Kreseski, former chief of staff to Congressman and later Governor Bob Ehrlich, passed away after a long illness. He played a big role in my career, and in the careers of many others.

Now, I am no stranger to loss. Long ago, I buried my parents, and lost a fiancee.

But the passing of a personal mentor barely a decade older than I am raises its own set of complicated emotions about human mortality.

Steve was personally responsible for bringing me onto Team Ehrlich when the congressman was first elected to the House of Representatives as part of the first Republican congress in 40 years. I barely knew Ehrlich at the time, and some people in Baltimore County political circles tended to regard me as a bit of a live wire.

This live wire thing must be shocking to some of you, I know…but I digress.

But Steve fought for me, and I remember him reaching out to me on December 31st, 1994 – I was in Dallas for a high school buddy’s wedding – to tell me I had gotten the job. That launched the defining experience of my professional career.

It was a band of brothers experience, as we devoted ourselves to our new boss and his ambitions during what seemed like a heady and historic time.

Sometimes, brothers clash.

Steve’s devotion to the congressman was absolute, and he was mindful of the challenges of managing a very young, neophyte staff. As for me, I was eager and anxious to prove my value.  Understandable tensions between a risk averse chief of staff and a brash young press secretary occasionally resulted – a common dynamic across Capitol Hill.

He pushed me to deliver, to be more than the introvert that sat quietly writing press releases and talking points. And in the process he helped me evolve.

Some might even say he created a monster. Again…I digress. :-)

Still, at the end of the day, I never doubted his friendship.

Anyway, it was the best work experience of my life, and Steve Kreseski made it possible.

I worked with him again in the State House. In what is often a self-centered business, Steve was the rare exception – a manager and a mentor who actually cared that the people under his charge learned, grew, and thrived.

On the day I buried my mother – a snowy December morning in 2003, not to mention the worst day of my life – he unexpectedly showed up at my home. He was the only senior member of Team Ehrlich who did.

I never forgot that.

When I heard he was ill, I reached out to him. Typically, he turned the conversation back to me and my own particular career issues and aspirations.  “Once I have beaten this,” he told me, “I will do what I can to help you.”

Greatness starts with goodness, and Steve Kreseski was a truly good person. He lived his life with compassion and kindness. Putting other people first was an ingrained part of his DNA. He was everyone’s generous uncle, and everyone whose life he touched was made better as a result of having known him.

RIP, Steve. We will miss you.