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Green Earth PR

The Real Deal: A tribute to Ray Anderson

by Lisa Lilienthal on August 9th, 2011

I love my work, which sometimes consists of entire days – weeks even – stringing words together to help someone else tell their story. It is gratifying to have the trust and confidence of my clients, to be sure, but some days, there just aren’t any words left for me to tell my own story. Today, I needed to save a few for myself.

Ray Anderson died yesterday. We worked together for nearly 16 years, and as I often assured a skeptical journalist, he was the real deal. A brilliant intellect with a natural gift for communication, he was a publicist’s dream client: articulate, passionate, sincere, so adept at staying on message that he taught me a thing or two about it. As his success would suggest, he was not only visionary, but he was competitive and tenacious, while at the same time a superb collaborator.

When I first began working with Interface, it was on a small project — a corporate open house. The marketing director and I hit it off and stayed on as a consultant. It was mid-1995, almost a year after Ray had made what would become a legendary speech to an internal task force, turning business-as-usual on its head. A small band of believers within the company were charting out the course, the “seven fronts of sustainability” were being developed, and the image that would become iconic, Mount Sustainability, emerged. I suggested to Ray that we should talk about what the company was doing.

“If the press is interested in what we’re doing, they’ll find us,” he demurred. I persisted, and one day in a conversation about how the company would define the term “restorative,” I had my opening. Wouldn’t one dimension of restorative be the power of influence; Interface leading by example and helping other companies find their way along the path the company would travel? Ray was converted, though always cautioned: “Don’t let the talk get ahead of the walk.”

Over the next 15 years, we’d work and write together, strategizing on two books and more than 1,500 speeches and interviews. Everywhere he went, Ray got a standing ovation, and I think that — the burst of applause that would fill the room, bouncing off the ceiling as the audience stood, enduring long past the point of a polite clap — became a sort of validation that he was really getting through, making a connection, making you think.  It never failed to thrill him, to humble him, to spur him on.  And while I know that his passing yesterday was peaceful, I’m counting on the fact that it was meet with the standing-ovation-to-end-all-standing-ovations on the other side.

The rest, as they say, is history — as it should be. For my part in it, I will be forever grateful to Ray and to Interface – for giving me meaningful and important work that has changed my own life and that of so many others. Of course, there will never be another Ray but his legacy will endure. And as for the man who is committed to keeping Ray’s vision alive? Yep, Dan Hendrix is the real deal, too.

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