Lessons from a Friend on Character, Courage, Family, and Mortality

Last year I had the chance to do an interview with a former classmate and friend Lt. Col. Mark Weber on his thoughts regarding “Leadership, Learning, and Failure.”  Three years ago Mark had gotten a request to rejoin General David Petraeus as he was appointed to take command of the war in Afghanistan.  From a routine blood draw and examination it was discovered that what Mark thought had been an ulcer was in fact cancer.  For the last few years, Mark has taken great care to share his journey in his fight against cancer illuminating his circumstances to help others in their fight.  Frequently he didn’t have “answers” from the medical community so he decided to lead the assault himself, figuring it out along the way.  In the summer of 2012 Mark decided to take control of writing his own narrative too, wanting to share not just his cancer journey but his life story in a book Tell My Sons.  Like every father, he wanted to hand down his thoughts, ideas, and lessons learned for his sons.

This is my thank you to Mark for the lessons he has taught me through his journey and in our time together – the importance of character, the meaning of courage, the prioritization of family, and the truth of mortality.  Just last night Mark had updated his friends and family on the latest changes to his health.  He shared with everyone that his time left is brief.

I have known Mark for twenty-seven years.  We had gone to the same small high school in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  Back then Cretin High School was still an all-boys Catholic school with less than 200 students per class.  During our time there Mark and I were both in the JROTC military program.  And like so many at that age we were trying to figure out our place in the world.  We were friendly but at the time we weren’t close friends.  We both appreciated the lessons that the JROTC program offered and understood the future benefits that it could provide.  But neither of us was willing to do what it would take to climb to the higher ranks.  We were both a little nonconformist in our own ways.

Twenty-five years later Mark and I would connect again.  This time we were classmates in the Policy Fellows program at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Policy.  The program was a yearlong curriculum that focused on public policy advancement and leadership development.  In the first few meetings Mark and I would chat frequently; sharing our thoughts on the latest political topics.  It was nice to have a familiar face in a room full of strangers.  Even though Mark and I had been on widely divergent paths since high school we found that we had a lot in common.

Mark had gone on to a career in the military while I pursued one in the private sector.  While our life experiences had given us very different perspectives we found that we were both centrists.  We were pragmatists who wanted the government to work for the people it served.  In an era of hyper-partisanship and continuous hyperbole from political pundits we both wanted politics to move beyond a zero-sum game of brinksmanship.  I think this common ground approach is why I so enjoyed talking with Mark throughout the year.  Mark was consistent in this thinking whether he was candidly discussing the difficulties of military communications at the Pentagon or presenting his policy team’s ideas on homeowner land legacy, community development, and conservation.

Mark is an honest guy who even before his diagnosis would give you his thoughts very matter of fact.  He believes that there was no shame in a political compromise if it would move an issue forward and was based on good intent.  He is a realist who understood the lessons of French Philosopher Voltaire in knowing that “perfect is the enemy of the good.”  He wants to leave this world in a better place than he had found it and he has invested his time in serving that end.  We need more men and women in this world like Mark!

Thank you Mark and be well my friend.


Here is a link to the video of Mark and his son Matthew singing the song “Tell My Sons” – http://youtu.be/b3O6LbZlLb0

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