The Only Thing I Did Was Light Him Well

At the end of January 2005 I got a call from Richard Edelman telling me that he was sick and could not do the planned tour of Europe presenting the Edelman Trust Barometer with me. This five day, five city, eight engagement tour had taken quite a bit of organisation and is our annual ‘set-piece’ marketing event. “Don’t worry”, he said, “Mike Deaver wants to do it with you”. And so by accident began about the best week of my professional life and an all-to-brief friendship with a great man that I will always cherish.

As you may have read, Mike Deaver died two weeks ago. There are few people in ‘our business’ whose passing provokes sizeable obituaries in national newspapers throughout the world, but Mike’s achievements for Ronald Reagan, for whom among other things, he was Deputy Chief of Staff and principle image maker, were part of a process that shaped the world in which we now live . . . and if you think that is an overstatement, you should see how Mike is viewed in Central and Eastern Europe, where his name is one of those learned by school-children as a principal player in the defeat of communism (“Tear down that Wall” was the line Mike penned for President Reagan). He is credited with having invented the ‘modern photo-call’ and was scrupulous at playing to Ronald Reagan’s visual and verbal strengths to great effect. Ever modest, Mike claimed: “The only thing I ever did was light him well”.

As we travelled that week (and the same week a year later) Mike talked and talked, and I remember just laughing and learning. To my ear, his voice was pure Jack Nicholson and he had a sense of timing and delivery that commanded attention. Whether he was addressing a hall of 60 strangers or a dinner of a few colleagues, Mike’s homespun anecdotes and straightforward delivery drew people in. You just wanted him to keep talking, and not just because he was one of the few people who have practiced at the very highest level of power and influence, but because of his humour and humanity.

And his personal authority was undiminshed by the years. He did a video interview for me in April on the US elections which was imediately picked up by various news sources and blogs as a telling commentary on where the Republicans were going or what they should be going.

Three of Mike’s mantras will stick with me: “Always start with where you want to end up and then work backwards from there, step-by step”; “Be true to who you are”; “It’s all about impressions”. Basic stuff, but as always with great communicators, it is the basics well executed rather than complicated strategies that win out. Mike was intuitive and inspirational.

The last time I saw him was in June in San Francisco at our annual managerial meeting where it was obvious that the pancreatic cancer was winning. Richard Edelman tends to stuff these meetings with amazing outside speakers, but on the final night, Mike made a twenty minute speech that trumped them all. Even in his weakened state he was a giant.

A few weeks ago I swapped emails with him on the subject of Gordon Brown’s first trip to the US as UK Prime Minister. To the last he was optimistic, engaged and interested in the world and how we as his colleagues and friends were getting on. I will miss him dearly.

[tags] Mike Deaver [/tags]

Categories Technology

4 thoughts on “The Only Thing I Did Was Light Him Well

  1. My mother, like Mike Deaver, died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 69. She died in March of this year. Her legacy is different than his in many ways – what she did leave behind was a significant number of lovely and optimistic watercolor paintings that she and I, her daughter, turned into, in order to fund pancreatic cancer research. Please view the website,, purchase cards, and pass on the website to people you know.


  2. Thanks for this Suzanne. The cards are beautiful and I will buy a set now. For anyone thinking of doing the same, the link above is not working, but this one is:


  3. A touching tribute Richard.


  4. Some coverage of the memorial service held yesterday in Washington Cathedral and attended by Nancy reagan, Vice President Dick Cheney, Jim Baker and Richard Edelman. Jonny Mathis sang Amazing Grace.


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