My former colleague and friend, Ted Quanrud passed away earlier this month. His self-written obituary, published in the Bismarck Tribune, is worth the read as a lasting tribute to his wit.
As his obituary said, “He did not die after a heroic struggle with some ailment like terminal hangnail or chronic dandruff, but from doing too many things that he shouldn't have done too often and for too long despite numerous warnings from members of the medical community. As an erstwhile colleague once said of him: ‘he's not the sort of man to say “hold the anchovies.”’”
Ted always got a last laugh.
With Ted’s passing, I paused to think about the lasting impact of mentors in my life. When I met Ted in my late 20s, I wasn’t seeking him out as a mentor. Mentors are a buzz in the business industry and I thought I needed one. I felt like my peers were well-connected and had mentors to guide them in their career. Did I? I wasn’t sure.
Ted certainly never thought of himself as a mentor to me. He just became one by his consistent presence, wisdom shared, kindness, patience and ability he had to get me to not take myself so seriously. He added humor to my life when I needed it most.
For a short time, we were colleagues and I was his supervisor. But ultimately, Ted taught me. Ted didn’t make headlines, he wrote them for others. He had a way of delivering you news you needed to hear in a tasteful manner and making all of us read and sound better than we could ourselves. My writing is still not overly strong, but it’s much improved because of Ted’s critiques and, at times, praise.
Over the past few years, Ted called my Agweek office phone with feedback, story ideas, critiques and praise. He had my cellphone number. He only used that for personal chats. Business was business.
I receive numerous calls from Agweek readers and AgweekTV viewers, but I’ll admit hearing Ted’s voicemails were often favorites to listen to and return. The quote often attributed to another great Ted, Theodore Roosevelt, rang true of Ted Quanrud’s voicemails to me, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Ted had a way of delivering a message that showed he cared while sharing insight, often giving me a broader context to issues facing agriculture. His last voicemail was a story idea he had from reading a New York Times article. I never got his message returned before he passed. But I know he knows that I listened. I had shared with Ted enough times that I appreciated his insight he freely gave to me without expecting anything in return.
Aside from mentoring my career development, Ted also taught me the importance of global travel, to visit fine food grocers when traveling, to sit and listen to classical music, soak in time with a few good friends and to always seek the truth.
He never wavered from who he was in my time with him. He was a global thinker, rooted in North Dakota. Ted also was a loyal fan of my husband and kids. Ted would walk to from his office down two offices to mine in the Capitol at 4 p.m. most days and tell me to get on the road soon for my long commute home so I wasn’t “the last mom” to pick up my kids from daycare or to drive to our son’s sporting event. He laughed at how my kids had given me the name “the last mom” title and his reminder showed me he valued my attempt to balance work and home life.
I have a home office drawer full of sports clippings from our son’s first winter of varsity basketball to the present any time Ted saw our son’s name in a box score. Ted surely knew I wasn’t organized enough to cut clippings myself, so he saved them for me. Someday I might get them into a scrapbook. For now, they are saved memorabilia in manila envelopes.
Ted wasn’t a person I saw frequently. But Ted was a person whose presence, words and wit left a lasting impact on me.
With more years under me now, I know I didn’t need to seek out mentors. They came to me as I focused on relationships with people I respected more than people with titles. Ted was one of those people I greatly respected.
You don’t have to try to be anything you’re not. Be yourself. Show others you care. Ted did that for me and many others.
Thank you, Ted. You’re brilliant and missed.