We received word today of the death of Chris Tilger. While I do not as a rule use last names in this journal, I have to make an exception in this case. Chris was the person who hired me for the job I’ve held since October of 1992. She was my direct supervisor, or my supervisor’s supervisor, for most of my years there and while I would not normally note here the passing of a coworker, I must once again make an exception. In both my professional and personal relationships with Chris, she was always an exception.
Perhaps the first clue is her educational background. She held a college degree, but it wasn’t in Business Administration or anything close to it. Her degree was a B.F.A. in Art. That may go a long way toward explaining her success at managing the creative, sometimes eccentric, sometimes downright flaky folks who populated the Graphics Services department. It may even help to explain why she was able to envision someone like myself as a viable candidate for hiring, since I have no formal training in graphics and indeed, no college degree at all cluttering up my resumé.
On the day I interviewed there, Chris did something that impressed me utterly. If she had needed to “win me over,” this would have done it. As it happened, I interviewed on a Friday, which is the day that this company always has a nice catered lunch brought in for the entire staff. At noon, we still weren’t finished with the interview process. “Would you like some lunch?” Chris asked. Well don’t ask me twice. Of course I did! Chris brought me to the main conference room where the food was laid out. We both filled our plates and she led me over to a table where two women were already eating. Chris introduced me to them and sat me down across from them, and then excused herself by saying, “These two both work in our department. If there’s anything you’d like to know that you don’t feel comfortable asking me, you can ask them. I’ll come back in an hour.” The two women were most friendly and tried to help any way they could. In fact, one of them (who for the record left the company years ago) grabbed my arm at one point and said, “Oh Chuck, PLEASE come to work here! We need more men in the department!” – oh, but that’s quite another story . . . The point is, I thought it was extremely cool of Chris to take this approach. She wasn’t merely trying to make a hire; she wanted to hire people who were going to like the job and stay a while.
I was trying to think of ways to express my feelings about Chris when I realized that I’d written about her a long time ago. Back in 1999, I was asked to contribute to her annual evaluation. While something like that is normally considered quite confidential, I think present circumstances clearly permit a loosening of that stricture, particularly since I’m quoting myself. A few excerpts:". . . In many ways, Chris leads by example. She is not the type of manager who sits in her ivory tower with the bare minimum of contact with her department. Rather, she maintains steady contact with the people, the work, and the state of the department, and one gets the sense that she takes a specific pride in the accomplishments of this department, and of its individuals. At the same time, she does not overmanage us . . . we know that Chris will be there when needed . . . Ultimately, this department is a reflection of its manager. I think we do a terrific job, and I think that starts with Chris."
On a personal level, there was always a special chemistry between Chris and myself. There were many occasions on which she would call me into her office under the guise of needing to discuss something very technical, when the truth was she just needed to talk to someone who would understand what she was thinking about and dealing with. I’m sure there were others in the office with whom she also had unique personal relationships, because that was one of the keys to her personality – she didn’t lump people into a single box; she recognized that we were individuals.
Let’s be clear on this point as well – she and I had a few clashes over the years, but no walls were ever built between us over them. We worked through them, or at least worked to a point of mutual understanding. I’ll once again quote myself with something I said many times about Chris over the years: “She likes me a lot, but she doesn’t always approve
of me. Fortunately, the part that likes me is the stronger part.”
For my part, I always considered Chris to be a friend of mine. Because of our professional relationship, we rarely met socially, but friendships take a lot of different forms, and this was our form. I am sad today, not only for the loss of Chris from this world, but also for everyone who valued Chris’ presence in their lives. I’m also sad because I know that the last months of Chris’ life were not very pleasant in many ways. There isn’t much consolation to be found there, except in the reminder that there are very few really nice ways to die so I can’t dwell on that or regard it in any way as a summation of one’s life. I do know this – that Chris made a lot of people’s lives better, including mine. I hope she’s in a position to feel proud of that.
I took this picture of Chris in 2000.