On the passing of Joe Boardman: Appreciation for a bit of wit and wisdom

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Thursday, March 7, 2019

Everyone comes into your life for a purpose. That advice is well known, but it is also something of a mystery: Some people are givens as to their role in your being. Your life partner, your friends, your employers or employees, and so many others are easy to understand how they impact your life. Others are not so easy. And some are there some who, if you are a careful listener, will share advice or just a particular view of looking at things that is worth holding onto. The death early this morning of former Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman reminded me of this.

 I wish I had known Joe Boardman better. We corresponded some. We ran into each other at professional venues from time to time. We agreed on some approaches to public transportation by rail and disagreed on others.

 Friction was high nine years ago when Amtrak and railroad photographers were in conflict over access to station platforms. Joe and the Amtrak management team impressed me with their willingness — in fact, their insistence — to have an open relationship between the company and the railroad enthusiast community. That led to a town hall meeting in Chicago that we co-sponsored with Amtrak in March 2010. Joe and his management team constituted the panel. I moderated. And the audience was anyone who wanted to sign up.  

 The day was a lively give and take. Some of the questions were succinct. Others rambled, and I wished I’d done a better job of moderating. Joe and his management team actually seemed to enjoy the session. And during those few hours in the spotlight, I learned a phrase from Joe Boardman that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

 When the questions were about when will this happen or when will that happen, Joe would more often than not start out his answer like this: “Not in a time frame that you and I would find acceptable.” Then he would explain why. He wore his trademark smile the who time. It was about as honest of an answer that I’ve ever seen a public official give in my 36 years of journalism. I think it’s also about patience and shared toleration for the often slow pace of change. It's also about wit and empathy.

 Thank you Joe, for your service as a veteran, as public official, as a railroad president, and for giving me that phrase.



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