Michael O’Connor Clarke passed away this morning, sadly losing his battle with the esophagael cancer that he was diagnosed with this summer.
I knew Michael both as a friend and as a colleague. From memory, I believe we first met online in 2007, through social media channels that were a shared passion between us. It wasn’t until mid-2008 that we met in person when work brought us together, but when we first met I remember it being as though we’d known each other for years. (I remember the meeting clearly – we had lunch at the Rebel House in Toronto, and I remember he convinced me to order the lunch special)
Over the next 18 months or so as we worked together, Michael became both a friend and a mentor. I spent countless hours sitting (on a massive exercise ball) in his office, as he did in mine, talking strategies and tactics, the latest online tools and trends, or how to resolve a difficult client situation. We pitched new business together; we presented at events together; we laughed, sighed, argued and relaxed together. That time shaped how I approached my work, not just then but now too.
I fondly remember the bizarre situations we found ourselves dealing with.
I remember the phone calls I made to him from a remote campsite on an island in the middle of Georgian Bay, when a client issue erupted over a weekend and we found ourselves defending our client from a backlash on the Daily Kos.
I remember Michael convincing us all that it was a good idea to put two otherwise normal actors in red lycra suits, name them “Tee” and “Vee” and walk around Toronto – in the middle of winter - with a shoulder-mounted projector to promote a client’s new online TV service.
I remember Michael, trying to figure out how to get coverage for a client’s new ultra-thin TV, drafting an email pitch that was as thin as the TV and having it re-printed verbatim in outlets.
All of these and more. Throughout it all, Michael was thoughtful, calm, strategic, quick-witted and hilarious.
More than this, though, I remember the side of Michael that matters more – the one that shone through outside work.
We talk a lot about community in this industry, and that word is often horribly abused. In Michael’s case, though, he really was part of a community – both online and off. Michael could name-check some of the first wave of social media pioneers as friends, and was himself an early social PR pioneer. Offline, he also made a big impact – as one of the founders of HoHoTO, he helped to raise tens of thousands of dollars for the Daily Bread Food Bank, for example. The impact of his passing on his community can be seen with a simple Twitter search for his name, as tributes pour in from around the world.
Above all, Michael was a devoted family man. He spoke constantly – incessantly – about his beloved wife Leona and his three children. The look on his face whenever he spoke about them, and the way he followed through on that with his actions, left no room for doubt about his priorities. It kills me to think of them losing such a devoted husband, father and companion.
Michael passed away aged 48 – far too young for the world to lose such an incredible, inspirational man.
While this is a sad day without doubt, a Facebook post from his Eamonn made me smile:
Hug your loved ones tight.
Be happy that he lived.
and raise a glass to him tonight
Michael, rest well my friend. One of these days we’ll share another beer. Until then, I – and many, many others – will dearly miss you.
Edit: Here are a few other posts from some of Michael’s friends: