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Thanks (Sen.) Max, for your service and lessons you taught

Thanks (Sen.) Max, for your service and lessons you taught

News of Senator Max Cleland’s passing hit me hard earlier this week. I knew that his health had been declining and his time might be near, but that doesn’t make it any easier. It’s difficult saying goodbye not only to a national hero, but also someone who made such an indelible impression on me and helped shape my early years.

Max was a longtime family friend, and I knew him practically my entire life. My father Raghbir (R.K.) Sehgal and Max forged their relationship in the mid-1980s. My father was then the CEO of Law Companies, and Max was Georgia’s secretary of state. My dad invited Max several times to address his employees and even abroad to the UK office (where he flew the Georgia flag in honor of Max’s presence). “Max is a patriot. He exhibits the best qualities of being an American. We ought to name more national monuments and parks after him,” said my dad.

Days after winning his election to the US Senate in 1996, Max came to our home for dinner. It was a heady group: Pat Crecine, President of Georgia Tech; Herman & Oteila Russell, Joseph Salgado (former Undersecretary of Energy), my grandfather Piara Singh Gill (scientist and advisor to Prime Minister Nehru of India), Ambassador Andrew Young & Carolyn Young. I remember this night vividly because Ambassador Young presided over a mock swearing in ceremony, in which Max recited the words he would eventually say on the Senate floor, concluding with “So help me God.”

Max and I grew closer when I was in college in New Hampshire. He was the top surrogate for Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign and was making frequent trips to the Granite State. He asked if I could drive him around. Naturally, I said yes. It was one of the best decisions in my life. We traveled to over twenty states together — from Florida to Alaska — over more than a year, as part of the campaign. I missed many classes, but I was learning something else.

I have many stirring, fond memories from being on the road with Max. Here are but a few:

  • Max was an orator
    He loved turning a phrase. He studied great orators like Winston Churchill and quoted them on the trail. Max spoke fondly about the Churchill War Rooms in London, and made sure I visited when I later lived in the UK. We collaborated on his speeches, and he loved utilizing military metaphors: “We need a new skipper in the ship-of-state,” he said about Kerry. Max frequently quoted Shakespeare and the last lines of President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural: “Let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

  • Max always had a zinger
    “Southerners can be critical but not mean,” Max would say. “Some people say that’s the ugliest boy I’ve ever seen…bless his heart.” Once when we were at an event with James Carville, Max quipped: “James is a marine.” He continued, “to err is human, to forgive divine, neither is Marine Corps policy.” When a staffer asked Max what he would talk about in an important stump speech, Max responded: “Sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” In summer 2004, there were four of us in the car driving through Carbondale, Illinois: Max, then state-senator Barack Obama, the driver, and me. Max had the future president in stitches with jokes that can’t be reprinted in a family paper.

  • I love you, brother
    Those were some of his favorite words. We met thousands of veterans on the trail. Often at an American Legion Hall or VFW Post, he greeted his fellow veterans with a warm smile and “I love you, brother.” When we rolled up to the Metrodome in Minneapolis with over 30,000 people in attendance days before the 2004 election, he whispered these very words into John Kerry’s ears. I was so inspired with Max’s commitment to serve that years later I received a commission as a US Navy Reserve officer. Max was initially reluctant (not wanting me to get hurt or worse), but he eventually came around. He affectionately answered the phone with “Hello, Lieutenant” when I called.

 

  • How to be a friend
    This may sound overwrought, but Max taught me how to be a friend. I was a hyper, ambitious – at times – arrogant young adult. I didn’t have that many friends, as I was laser focused on my grades or the next accomplishment. He taught me by example how to be with people. No matter who he met, he asked how they were and always about their families. He truly wanted to know. He helped me see the importance of connecting more deeply with others. “We’re imperfect and need each other,” he told me. I still think about this a lot.

A few weeks ago, I visited the Normandy American Cemetery, which is under the auspices of the American Battle Monument Commission. Max was its secretary during the Obama Administration, and he always spoke glowingly about these hallowed lands and urged me to visit one day. As I walked around the graves, I looked over the cliffs and thought of my friend. In my mind, I could hear his hearty laugh and see his smile.

Whenever Max and I would get home from a long trip, my sister would meet us on the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson tarmac. We would drive him to his Buckhead apartment, and make sure he was situated for the night. We hugged and said our goodbyes.

“See you down the road,” he would say.

I look forward to that day.

[This article was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

Kabir Sehgal is a multi-Grammy winner, former investment banker, New York Times bestselling author of 16 books, and US Navy veteran.

Edition #8 – Rory Gardiner answers 7 Questions

Edition #8 – Rory Gardiner answers 7 Questions

1. Why are you a musician?

I thought it would make me more attractive to the opposite sex. Turns out a self conscious starving artist weirdo, with inadequacy issues wasn’t their idea of “Prince Charming.” Talk about the ultimate backfire!

2. Who are your musical inspirations?

Growing up I was really into Aerosmith & Garth Brooks. Today you can find me jamming out to the latest self-help podcast.

3. What is your practice routine?

We hold band rehearsal when it’s been too long, and we miss each other. Nobody wants to just “hang out,” so if we shelter it under the label of “Band Practice,” then it becomes a productive hang.

4. Why did you make this album?

Modern Day Problems
By Rory Gardiner

I was supposed to record my stand up comedy album in 2020, but the world shut down and there were no audiences to laugh at my jokes in comedy clubs. So I decided to isolate in a recording studio and make an album of “funny” songs.

5. What were the biggest obstacles in making this album? How did you overcome?

The biggest obstacle was singing while wearing a mask. Other than that, trying to bridge the gap between making the song as funny as possible, but also as enjoyable to hear was harder than original anticipated. The punch lines had to accommodate proper rhyming schemes.

6. Who is featured on the album?

In order to add humor to the “less funny musical parts,” we decided to add in a lot of voice overs to punch up the jokes. We brought it a variety of comedians, or actors, radio personalities and friends. It was a really fun and collaborative experience.

7. Where may we find you online?

The Atlanta Braves are World Series Champions! – My personal reflections

The Atlanta Braves are World Series Champions! – My personal reflections

It actually happened. The Atlanta Braves won the World Series. MY Atlanta Braves won it all. What a magical journey to the mountain top. When I’m inspired, I write…

The Braves are by far my favorite professional sports team. I’m from Atlanta and came of age during the incredible run of success by the Braves during the 1990s. There was the worst-to-first season of 1991. There was the Sid Bream slide to win the 1992 NLCS against the Pittsburgh Pirates. And there was the 1995 World Series championship, which I was lucky enough to be at with my family at Fulton County Stadium.


The Braves winning the 1995 World Series

I knew the players’ names, their stats, their histories. My late grandfather Nanaji and I would watch the games together in our living room. I played little league and pretended to be Terry Pendleton and Andruw Jones. I revered pitchers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz. I even threw out the first pitch of a ball game. We were blessed that Hank Aaron, who passed away earlier this year, was a friend of our family. My friends were all Braves fans, and I went to school with the son of the Braves’ general manager, the son of a Braves relief pitcher, and the son of the Braves play-by-play announcer. My childhood is chock-full of memories of the Braves.

There was so much energy in Atlanta during the 1990s. As a kid, I felt like my town was at the center of things. We hosted the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996, and my sister and I ran the torch. Atlanta hosted Super Bowl XXVIII in 1994, and the Atlanta Falcons played in Super Bowl XXXIII in 1999. Ted Turner owned the Braves and they were featured on his TBS, creating a nationwide following of the team. CNN, based in Atlanta, was in its heyday. The Braves kept on winning…

But the Braves’ run in the 1990s was always tinged with the lamentable “They only won one World Series.” After winning fourteen division titles in a row, going 1-for-14 seemed like an underachievement. Years later, when I began to meditate, I would use these memories to learn how to “detach” from things, outcomes, and especially desires.

I remember what the Braves did each year of the 1990s viscerally, and how they performed colors what I think of that particular year. For example, I view 1997 as not a great year – whatever that means! – because the Braves flamed out to the Marlins in the National League Championship Series. When the Braves lost to the Padres in the 1998 NLCS, I chucked my television remote control at the framed Jerry Rice poster in my bedroom, and it broke the glass. I never fixed it, and it still hangs in my room, a reminder of the anguish and disappointment.

Of course, every sports fan thinks that they’ve endured years of hardship and misery by supporting their beloved franchise. But being a Braves fan has been an especially difficult road. They are the heartbeat of Atlanta sports. Our city has been devoid of championships for now some 26 years (since they won it all in 1995). The Atlanta Hawks have never won a championship. The Falcons have never won. In fact, I was at Super Bowl LI when the Falcons were up 28-3 against the Patriots, and we all know how that turned out. Atlanta franchises became known as “chokers” in the media and among sports fans.

No matter where I was in my life, I always kept tabs on Braves games. I recall checking scores while I was in college at the library, living abroad, and serving on a submarine base. Just a few weeks ago, I was up until 4 am in Europe watching the team in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. I’ve had countless meals on the road alone, while reading about the latest game on my phone. I’m devoted.

Yet when the Braves went through a losing stretch in the mid-2010s, my interest indeed flagged, and I started to think of baseball as a parochial sport that was losing interest among younger audiences. Maybe it still is. But deep down, I probably just wanted the Braves to win again. I wanted them to matter.

Then again, why do sports matter? Why did my daily disposition sometimes depend on how the Braves performed? It makes no sense, really. A bunch of guys I don’t know hitting balls around should have no impact on my mood or feelings.


With Otis Nixon

But that’s the great thing about sports – its irrationality. You have to take a leap of faith and believe in something. Rooting for the Braves brought me closer to my family and friends. We were all pulling for the same thing. And especially when you root for your hometown team, it’s an act of communion with fellow citizens.

It’s not like there’s much else bringing us together these days. Atlanta is beset with all sorts of challenges such as crime, zoning, transportation, and so on. Even the Braves have faced difficult issues off the field. When they moved to their new stadium at Cobb County (instead of downtown), it made it more difficult for minority communities to attend the games. What’s more, the tomahawk chop – the collective chant of Braves fans – has become viewed among some observers as an anachronistic, even racist gesture. I don’t chop anymore. I try to focus on what the team does on the field.

When you keep your attention on the field – it’s easy to marvel at the 2021 Atlanta Braves. They are the second team in history to win it all after having a losing record at the All-star game. There’s a bevy of fascinating facts that tell the tale of their title chase. They lost several of their stars during the season. But their general manager made some savvy trades to acquire the talent the team would need during the second half. And during the postseason, most professional baseball analysts picked the Brewers, Dodgers, and Astros to win. But the Braves kept winning, winning, and winning. We overcame the odds.

While the Braves were playing well, and the outcome looked promising, I still didn’t totally believe. Years of heartache, remember? It wasn’t until last night in Game 6, when I was watching the game with my family, and the Braves were up 7-0 in the ninth inning with two outs. “We might actually do this,” I said to myself.

The crack of the bat, a groundball to shortstop Dansby Swanson who threw the ball to first baseman Freddie Freeman.

Joy. Elation. Tears. Hugs. Champagne!

The Braves are World Series Champions.

I came back to my room and looked at the Jerry Rice poster, the same one I had broken 24 years ago and ran my hand over the glass. The years of “oh-so-close” and disappointment were over. I thought of those 1990s teams. I thought of Nanaji, my grandfather. I smiled thinking of how proud my fellow Atlanta citizens must be — and everyone throughout Braves Country.

Let the party begin!

What I learned in France (& the importance of joining civil society groups)

What I learned in France (& the importance of joining civil society groups)

If you want to meet new people, grow, and learn — join a civil society group. By that I mean any group that tries to make a positive contribution to your community. It can be a Rotary club or the local YMCA. When you’re in communion with others, you’ll inevitably learn and stretch your imagination. Joining may even bring you good energy.

I forgot about this good energy. I had to be reminded.

I recently spent several days in France as a “Young Leader.” Each year the French-American Foundation, an amazingly generous organization, selects ~20 Young Leaders (half from the US and half from France) to take part in 2 week seminar over 2 years. The locations for the seminars alternate each year between the US and France. In 2019, I spent a week in Chicago with other Young Leaders. And this year I was in Paris & Normandy (2020 was a virtual year).

Because of the pandemic, I had forgotten the joy, the exhilaration of being with other interesting, curious people. The purpose of this particular program is to build bridges between French and US leaders. After all, France and the US are the oldest of allies.

We all live busy lives: jobs, families, obligations. Imagine taking one week of the year to meet new people, learn about new places. Yes, not everyone is as fortunate and has the time or resources for such an excursion. But that’s why I started this missive with community organizations that one can join. Start where you are. Learn from those around you. And if you’re looking for some fresh perspective, join a group with new people.

Here is some of what we did in France, and what I learned.

  • French President
    We went to The Élysée Palace, where we met President Emmanuel Macron. The conversation turned to the arts, and I told him that I created an opera on Angela Merkel. I followed with “You’re next.” I’m not sure if he was honored or threatened, but he smiled and took it in stride. What’s more, we spoke about the need for the US-France relationship to be more than one based solely on NATO.

 

  • Normandy
    We visited the American Cemetery in Normandy and Omaha Beach, and we took part in a wreath-laying ceremony. It was a moving and memorable experience. The geography was vivid, and I was able to better appreciate the cliffs that the allied troops had to scale during World War II. Years ago, I served as a special assistant to Senator Max Cleland, who later was the head of the American Battle Monuments Commission. I remember him speaking with pride about these august lands of Normandy, so I was thinking of him during my trip.

 

  • Notre Dame
    The Commander of the Paris Fire Brigade spoke in harrowing detail about how firefighters extinguished the fire at the Notre Dame cathedral. It took leadership, resolve, grittiness, technology, and rapid communications — to avert total disaster and collapse. The renovations are coming along, and the cathedral may reopen in 2024.

 

  • French culture
    We had vibrant conversations regarding multiculturalism, universalism, secularism, and laïcité with Roger Cohen, the New York Times Paris bureau chief. The takeaway here is that issues of identity and belonging aren’t unique to the US. We all struggle with these topics.

 

  • Walks and Lobbies
    It’s during the down periods when you strike up the most fascinating conversations. Not always during the formal programs and talks. I had so many enriching dialogues about French politics, history, and societal issues with my peers during walks or on the bus. For example, I learned about the nuances of French house music and about the startup ecosystem in Paris.

The Original Portfolio Careerist: Remembering William vanden Heuvel (Lawyer, Diplomat, Businessman)

The Original Portfolio Careerist: Remembering William vanden Heuvel (Lawyer, Diplomat, Businessman)

We recently lost a giant and gentleman. Ambassador William vanden Heuvel was the original portfolio careerist. The OG of the hyphenated career. He handled many professions across the private and public sectors with grace. I was fortunate to know him and to consider him a friend and mentor. We even collaborated on a music album together. He passed away last June. I will miss our lunches together in New York. But to remember him is to honor his legacy, so let’s revisit what made this man so special.

Bill’s careers

What Made Bill Special: Service

Bill believed in servant leadership. Leaders should put their people ahead of them. He knew that government could be a force for freedom, democracy, and the common good. He came of age during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration and was inspired by how FDR leveraged government to help secure, defend, and advance millions of Americans.

He later became a confidante of the Kennedys and served as a special assistant to Robert Kennedy. As his New York Times obituary points out — the Kennedys liked to use intermediaries to communicate with others, and Bill became one of their trusted communicators. During the civil rights movement, Bill worked closely with RFK to help secure the rights of African Americans. He later served as chairman of the New York City Board of Correction after inmates protested their conditions.

During President Jimmy Carter’s administration, Bill was appointed to serve as ambassador to the European office of the UN, and later as the the deputy representative to the UN.

His Legacy Endures
Go to Roosevelt Island in New York City and visit the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy. Bill was instrumental in the creation and development of this space, one of the most serene and beautiful areas in all of NYC. He believed it was necessary to preserve and protect the legacy of FDR and to remind future generations of how government can be a force for human rights and good in the world. Watching him lead the charge for the Four Freedoms Park was inspirational.

Personal reflections
Bill and I were introduced by a mutual friend, and we hit it off. We would meet for lunches, and he would share stories about his time serving in public office or traveling abroad with dignitaries. He was a tremendous story teller, and I learned so much about diplomacy and foreign affairs.

Most of all, I learned how to be there for friends. He was an important and busy man. But he always made time for me and others. He was interested in what was going on in my life, and he asked many questions. He was a curious and kind, warmhearted and affable gentleman.

During one of our lunches, I mentioned to him that I was producing Ted Nash’s Presidential Suite: Eight Variations on Freedom. A jazz album in which every piece was inspired by political oratory. He was intrigued that we were including a piece inspired by FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech. And quite wonderfully, he agreed to read a passage on the album which ended up winning 2 Grammys. I’d affectionally call him “The star Ambassador” whenever I saw him, reminding him (and others) of his great performance on the album.

I’ll miss you, Bill! Rest in power.

***

Kabir Sehgal is a Multi Grammy & Latin Grammy Award winner, as well as New York Times bestselling author.

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