NOTE: I first published this piece in 2002 and have reposted it every year as a way of remembering 9/11 and Bill Meehan
If you're watching television in the US this morning, you've probably caught at least some of the coverage of events remembering the people who died on 9/11.
While this isn't a typical television story, this seems like the right time for me to talk about the experience, and the impact it's had on my life. Forgive me my brief indulgence when it comes to this.
I am someone who has gone out of his way not to be overly emotional about the events of September 11, 2001. I've watched all the specials, fascinated by the minutia of why the towers fell. And I have been saddened by the loss--all those families who will never be the same. But living in the Midwest, not experiencing the loss of a loved one, it's been easy to distance myself from the event.
But when you least expect it, these things pop up to slap some sense into you. And in my case, my thoughts today are primarily centered on one victim of September 11, Cantor Fitzgerald Chief Market Strategist Bill Meehan. I can't say that Bill and I were friends, exactly, although we talked at least a couple of times a week for 18 months. I was a financial reporter in San Francisco, working at an online news company that was so new it might as well have been wearing diapers. Bill was a true pillar of Wall Street investing, respected as a straight-shooter, as someone who wasn't afraid to speak his opinion and defend it to anyone who asked. Unlike a lot of the horror stories you hear about Wall Street analysts, Bill was a guy you could trust.
But he was also someone who was generous with his time and expertise. I was doing a weekly market wrap-up audio program every Friday morning, and he quickly signed on as a regular guest--even though he was quite frankly too important to really have any reason to do it for career purposes. He was available nearly every Friday for 18 months, sparring with my other regular guests, and speaking out in a way that was often breathtakingly honest.
When the company I worked for had a round of layoffs, and I was let go, Bill sent me a wonderfully supportive and kind note. He told me how much he had enjoyed talking with me every week, and offered to give me a job reference or any other help he could to get me settled in somewhere else. It was a thoughtful gesture, and coming from someone with his stature, an offer that had real weight.
But I think my strongest memory of Bill Meehan was a conversation I had with him the Friday before I was leaving on vacation to get married. I generally talked to him from his home first thing in the morning, and as you can imagine, the conversation sometimes strayed far from the topic of Wall Street.
I was taking ten days off work, and I joked that being gone that long was going to "make my boss crazy." Bill paused, and told me that I had to remember that everything we talked about was just numbers. What really mattered, he told me, was friends and family. "Getting married was the best decision I ever made," he said. "And having some good friends and family you love....don't ever let work distract you from what's important."
I think about that conversation a lot. It rewinds in my mind nearly every day, when I'm tempted to spend "just one more hour" at work, or leave my wife to her own devices while I devote time on the needs of my start-up business. I'm hungry for success, and have no problem working long hours when needed. But Bill helped to give me perspective, and that lesson lives on in me.
Now I'm going back to thinking about television. But only until it's time to spend some quality time with my family.
Rest in peace, Bill.