The organist for Richard Yamarone’s funeral arrived late. The service had already started when she barged through the door and hurried up the side of the sanctuary, her heels echoing on the tile floor.
Afterward, she approached me as I loitered in the aisle. “I feel terrible, but we were double booked. The other funeral went long,” she told me, feeling the need to apologize to a random stranger.
Richard would have laughed. And that irreverence is what I will miss most about my friend and colleague. Rich died of a heart attack suffered on Thanksgiving Day while playing hockey. Just 55, he was in his prime as an economist.
I hired Richard seven years ago to create a newsletter about economics for Bloomberg LP. The first thing he told me was that he was famous. The second was that he was “really famous.”
He previously worked at Argus and was often quoted in the financial press.
When he started at Bloomberg he claimed he already knew 745 people at the company. It seemed preposterous, but Richard had a spreadsheet to prove it.
He worked hard. He would get to the office by 4 a.m. to prepare the publication. He’d work a long day and then host a dinner for his friends, some of the best known economists on the Street.
He treated the office like his living room. We sat close together. He would turn up the ringer on his phone because he was hard of hearing. When a call would come in, he would yell: “Don’t get up. It’s probably for me.”
I’m not sure why that was so funny, but it was. And all the more so because he would do it day after day.
Periodically Mike Bloomberg would send out an email to the entire company and Rich would jump out of his chair, exclaiming: “Mike is messaging me! Mike is messaging me!”
Rich was a quick wit. We had an economist named Colin who quit. As news spread and people asked: “What happened to Colin?” Rich responded with a quizzical look and a question: “Which one was Colin again?”
I’m not sure why that was so funny either, but it was. And it became a meme. Whenever anyone left the company, Rich would act like he had only the vaguest recollection of the person. “Which one was Joe again?”
If things got too quiet he would break the ice, saying: “Did I ever tell you …” and that would be followed by a totally improbable situation. The shtick would go like this:
“Did I ever tell you was wounded in Afghanistan?”
I’d look alarmed and say no, no you didn’t.
And he would say, “That’s good, because it’s not true and I’d be really embarrassed if I had told you that.”
And so it would go.
“Did I ever tell you I won the Pulitzer?”
“Did I ever tell you I climbed Mt. Everest?”
Rich spent a lot of time on the road speaking at colleges and to trade groups. Once when I questioned the benefit of speaking to a group in Boston he promised he would get a standing ovation.
Sure enough he sent me a selfie with the group applauding vigorously. I laughed and asked him how he did it.
He explained the scheme. Before he spoke he asked the group to stand. He told people whose last name began with A to F to spread their arms wide, while people whose names started with G to P held their arms slightly apart and those with names ending Q to Z clasped their hands. In the photo the audience appeared to be clapping.
In 2012 Richard wrote what might be the most insane self review ever. It was a four-page, single-spaced parody in which he compared his leadership abilities to Churchill, Lincoln, Jesus and Gandhi. He compared his public speaking to Rembrandt painting and Captain Sully landing on the Hudson. One line stood out: “There are only two types of people in this world, those that are Richard Yamarone, and those that want to be Richard Yamarone.”
I don’t have much of a sense of humor so I told him to rewrite it.
For Christmas one year he gave me a signed, framed picture of himself.
All this was endearing because Rich was both ridiculously confident and openly insecure. He was the guy who would tell friends he was going to win a race that he didn’t feel qualified to enter.
Richard was first and foremost a great economist. An industry newsletter called him the “Nostradamus of the Financial Industry” for predicting the 2008 crisis.
He was followed by officials at the Federal Reserve and hedge fund managers who appreciated his efforts to provide concrete examples of how companies were reacting to changing economic tides.
Last week Rich posthumously won an award for excellence in economic forecasting from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
He created something he dubbed The Orange Book, a Bloomberg version of the Fed’s Beige Book. It was a collection of examples of companies expanding operations or cutting back that served as economic indicators.
And he was a fine writer who conveyed complicated concepts in simple prose.
Rich was a big bear of a guy, cynical but sensitive. He was always griping about how things didn’t work but he couldn’t help trying to make them better.
I knew he played hockey, but it was heart-breaking to learn too late that there were so many things I didn’t know. That he was a great cook and sang opera and took his father fly fishing each year.
Even with friends we don’t appreciate key moments. He shaved off his mustache a couple of years ago and I remember remarking on it. I didn’t realize what a big deal it was until I saw a collage of photos at his funeral. He seems to have had a mustache since college.
When I first heard Rich passed I went down to the fourth floor and just stared at his desk. His sports jacket was still hanging on his chair slightly askew with a scarf draped over it. It was as if he left in a hurry and would soon be back.
His desk was cluttered with books and mementos. He had a plaque with a quote from Abraham Lincoln that said: “Whatever you are, be a good one.”
On the right side I could see his name tag. Everyone at the company has one. It’s printed on a magnetic strip so it can be moved from desk to desk as assignments and roles change.
Whenever anyone in our group would leave the company Richard made it his practice to snatch the name tag before the desk was cleared. He had a collection of them.
I knew Rich was special. And I knew that, of course, because he told me so.
“You know who’s a great guy?” he asked me on more than one occasion.
He’d pause before breaking into a grin.
“Me,” he’d say. “I’m a great guy.”
Rich was a great guy.
He was a great guy who left us far too soon.
**Published by Ted Merz Dec 6, 2017 **