McKenna's, "A Few Things Before I Go," Is A Legacy To His Children And A Life Guide For All | WAMC

McKenna's, "A Few Things Before I Go," Is A Legacy To His Children And A Life Guide For All

Nov 15, 2020

Credit Bob Goepfert

Almost everyone has a person who intersects their life at unexpected, random moments.   For some reason, intermittent personal contact can be as strong as it is with a person with whom you have had a strong single bonding experience.

One of those people in my life is Patrick McKenna.  I first got to know Patrick when, as a young man, he often appeared as an actor in local non-professional plays.  They were most frequently produced at Siena College in Loudonville and Russell Sage College in Troy.  In the 1980s, the theater department regularly used community performers in their productions.  

Our casual relationship continued off and on over the next 30 or so years through our mutual passion for theater and the arts and because both of us had a career working with not-for-profits.  Too, a commonality of political thought kept us connected.  

Our final and most emotional connection came in 2018 when Patrick, at age 56, revealed he had been diagnosed with ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.   In 2010, I lost my wife of 46 years to ALS.  It’s the kind of link that no one wants.  More important, it’s a bond made of a nightmare.  There is no way around saying it; a diagnosis of ALS is a  death sentence. Patrick McKenna is entering the final phase of the disease.

Just as anyone who has death as a companion – be it because of advanced age, a dangerous job or illness, what dominates your thoughts is the legacy you leave to your children. 

Patrick McKenna’s legacy was to write a book  “A Few Things Before I Go.”’ It is meant as a sort of instruction book for his children on how to establish sound principles in the world of business and negotiation.  Actually, it’s a manual for everyone on how to live a satisfying, principled life.  

It echoes Polonius’s instructions to his son Laertes on how to behave when away at college.  His famous speech in “Hamlet,” ends with “And this above all, to thine own self be true.”  This statement by Polonius is the subtext of “A Few Things Before I Go.”

Too, it is a memoir of a dying man who reflects on a life well-lived and wants to express what, if anything, he learned from life.  And Patrick McKenna learned plenty.  Indeed, in order to write this book, because of his loss of control of his body, Patrick had to lean how to use eyegaze technology.  It adds an element of determination to already inspiring accomplishment.

“A Few Things Before I Go” is loving, thoughtful and wise.  It’s the kind of book that older and experienced individuals will read and knowingly shake their heads in recognition.  As such, some of the points made may, at first, seem obvious.  I doubt though if many will read the book without thinking, “I wish I knew that at the beginning of my career.”  

Even though the book is written in a conversational tone, some passages seem text book in style.  This and some awkward use of footnotes are the few flaws in the book.  But the content is such that after you read it you will think of about a dozen people you would gift it to. 

As an actor, Patrick had a magnetic presence on stage, but more important he was a smart actor.  He eventually earned membership into the professional actors’ union Actors’ Equity Association.  Without being critical, I do not remember a performance of his that I could call a defining portrait of a character.  However, with praise I can say his every performance permitted me to know and understand a character he played a little bit better than I had before.

He does the same in this book.  He illuminates what you think you already know with such truthfulness and clarity it forces you to wonder why you don’t practice the obvious more often.   

The biographical element of the book explains how Patrick developed his highly developed sense of social conscience.  He was raised in Schenectady, went to Siena College and earned his law degree at Albany Law School.  For most of his career, he worked with worthy not-for-profits.  He spent 12 years with the American Cancer Society and acted as counsel for the American Heart Association.  For several years he served as a local town justice. In private practice he frequently worked pro Bono for many needy organizations.

Ultimately, he found the job he was born for - serving as a global communications consultant with Templar Advisers.  There he taught international Fortune 500 executives to negotiate and close large business deals.

The book describes details one of his proudest accomplishments which was getting the community of Waterford to accept a group home for the victims of AIDS.  The case reveals that Patrick does not define his life by victories.  He seeks win-wins.  He knew that without total acceptance by the community for the AIDS home, eventually the project would fail.  His approach was to show the town how they would gain financially and morally by accepting the group home.

Patrick’s goal in life was to bring people together in a fair manner.  The strength in “A Few Things Before I Go,” is that if offers common sense techniques to achieve win-win situations.  Those techniques are based on respect for others with different opinions and how to research opponents’ positions so you understand the true roadblocks to a solution.   If this sounds simplistic, stop and examine the politics of the day.

“A Few Things Before I Go” is a heartfelt manual written to make the McKenna children better human beings.  But in a broader sense, it is a guideline on how to make the world a better place for all of us.

"A Few Things Before I Go" is available at amazon.com.  More local outlets are being planned.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.