Back when we were first writing about networks, we received a letter (in the mail, that long ago), written on beautiful stationery. It was from Elizabeth M. Lorentz, who said that while she liked our book, we'd missed a very important source of information: the books she'd written with Seymour Sarason (who died on Jan. 28 in New Haven). She went on to point out that we'd failed to recognize a critical role in networks, that of the coordinator, again a function that she and Sarason had identified.
Shame on us. We'd missed their work entirely. In fact, we'd never heard of either of them until the letter came, but, once it did, a friendship was born with Elizabeth that lasted until she died about ten years ago.
I could (and eventually will) write for pages about Elizabeth, her remarkable life, and what turned out to be an important friendship. Her father was Eugene Meyer, first head of the World Bank, but that was only later in his life, after many other positions, including chairing the Federal Reserve Bank, and buying, at auction, The Washington Post, which Elizabeth's younger sister, Katharine Graham, would eventually run. The world passed through the doors of the Meyer home and, during the fifteen years of our friendship, I heard many stories about people whom I only knew from reading--Brancusi, Steichen, Gershwin, to name a few. The most important to our work was Seymour.
The Times obit that I linked to in the first paragraph reviews Seymour's remarkable contribution to psychology, which acknowledges the role of community in shaping people. I'd never met Seymour face-to-face until Elizabeth died and her sister organized a memorial service in New York. At the luncheon following, I was seated between Seymour and Mrs. Graham. (Somehow he was instantly Seymour but I couldn't think of her as Kay.)
He was warm and funny, knew our work, and wanted me to come visit him in Connecticut. You no doubt have a list of such trips yourself, ones that you really want to make but never can make happen, say, next Tuesday. I'm so grateful that I did make the time, many times over, to see Elizabeth and get to know her.
Seymour's and Elizabeth's work together, which began after she was well into her fifties, called out "The Challenge of the Resource Exchange Network," the title of one of their books. (Seymour wrote dozens, by the way.)
One of its central tenets lies close to the heart of all of us interested in networks: that we have a great deal to offer one another but we have to reach outside the narrow bounds of the organizations we serve in order to realize it--and to manifest what cross-boundary communication and sharing really make possible. Coordinators, back to that first letter from Elizabeth, are the people who can make this happen.
As I'm madly trying to find some passages that describe what Elizabeth and Seymour were talking about, I've put my fingers on a few pages in The Age of the Network on their work. Will post that too.
Meanwhile, a deep bow to the phenomenal body of work that you produced, Seymour, which we all need to study more closely.
And a huge public note to self: Stop delaying all those trips.