On Monday July 15th, 2013 I lost one of my most valued professional, spiritual and personal mentors and one of my most beloved friends, role models and confidants. His life was impressive by all standards, especially given he grew up from very humble beginnings, working long hours after school and on weekends at his father’s small gas station in Long Island, New York. In short, I would not be a fraction of the man I am today without his influence on my life and I hope my reflections below serve to inspire and encourage you, as his life did for me.
Mr. Hartnett worked his way through college before spending time in China as an Officer in the Navy. He then moved on to law school, which gave him the credentials he needed to become a Special Agent for the FBI, where he served in and around Washington and Oregon State. After the FBI, he moved home and served as a private sector attorney in New York City and was soon appointed the Vice Chairman of the New York Housing Authority and Chief Counsel to the New York City Board of Higher Education. The aluminum giant Alcoa Inc. eventually made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, but before long he launched his own company, which was involved with more than 260 residential and commercial real estate developments in the United States from 1961-1983
Some of the most well-known and recognized projects he was directly responsible for are Lake Point Tower in Chicago (pictured right), United Nations Plaza in New York City, the Williams Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Century City in Los Angeles. All of which I’ve had the privilege of visiting, most of which I’ve visited with him at my side giving a personal guided tour.
I was lucky enough to grow up only 2 blocks away from this most impressive man, spending many Saturday and Sunday mornings of my youth walking over to his house to learn how to make the perfect crepe, the perfect scrambled egg, or to simply soak up the endless stream of knowledge, opinions and experiences he had to share. I also spent countless hours with him on summer road trips driving across the country from Illinois to California and Colorado.
On these trips I would badger him with questions and he would gladly teach me anything I wanted to learn. He taught me how to play Chess and Gin Rummy at age 8 and on the deserted stretch of freeway between New Mexico and Las Vegas at age 12 he also taught me how to play Blackjack, Craps and Poker. As I got older, he taught me the art of defensive driving, which has saved my life more often than I like to remember over my 17 years behind the wheel. I will also never forget the time he gave me an hour long lecture about the logic of dressing for the job I want in a company, not the job I might be in at the time. This was one of the many lessons I took to heart and put into practice over the years, despite the “business casual” culture of Silicon Valley.
Most importantly however, he taught me how to be a gentlemen, how to be a loving and supportive husband, and how to conduct business with integrity. He humbly taught these lessons, not through the gloating of his own actions, accomplishments or deeds, but through stories that spoke to what he thought he should have done differently in the past. Through the years I also heard countless stories from his friends and business partners who would jump at the opportunity to tell me about how he turned away lucrative bribes, never sought vengeance on someone who screwed him over or how he would drop everything to lend a helping hand to assist a friend in need. One only had to look at the devotion showered upon him by his friends, family and former employees as he grew older to know there was Truth in what they said and what he taught… and so I absorbed everything I could, every chance I got… which as I look back, was not nearly enough.
One of his last professional projects was a production called “Here’s Chicago!” located within the Chicago Avenue Pumping Station downtown Chicago. Though it no longer exists today, Here’s Chicago! provided hundreds of thousands of visitors a guided tour through the pumping station itself, as well as a 90 minute interactive audio/visual tour of the history of the city and its ever evolving culture. The Chicago fire, Al Capone, St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, White Sox, Bears, Cubs, Bulls, its ethnic diversity, music, food… everything about Chicago was celebrated and those who had the privilege to stop in over the years loved the place and the people within it. I was especially fascinated as a child by the back stage tours he would provide to his closest friends, getting up close and personal with the animatronics and projectors that made the experience so awesome. The gift shop was also a sight to behold with every piece of shwag you could imagine that had anything to do with Chicago.
He was always a gadget geek as well, and I can vividly remember him with one of the first available car phones, first personal computers, first video conference devices, first remote operated office doors… and my personal favorites, the first indoor putting green w/ automatic ball return and first computer operated chess board. He was one of the first people on Facebook as well, as he instantly saw the value in seeing and sharing with all his children and grand children scattered across the country.
Over the past 15-20 years he read no less than 3 different newspapers every single day, some he vehemently disagreed with just so he could “understand where the other side is coming from”. He sent letters with newspaper clippings (and eventually emails with links as well) to his 4 children and 17 grand children nearly every day with content he thought they would find useful or relevant. Each member of the family could count on hearing from him at least once a month to this extent, and he was almost always spot on with the information he shared, even as he got older.
A few months ago, while reflecting on everything he had accomplished in life with a friend, he was asked what, among them all, was his greatest accomplishment. Not surprisingly, it was not the La Jolla Shores Clubdominium complex he built on the breathtaking strip of beach 20 minutes north of San Diego, it was not Lake Point Tower which was at the time the largest condominium complex in the world, and it was not any of his professional awards or public letters of recognition. Without hesitation he told his friend his greatest accomplishment in life was his wife of nearly 65 years, Lorrayne. If you ever spent time with Lorrayne (seen here with him) you would agree that she is, in fact, a living Saint. Such a humble and enlightened response from such a remarkable, honorable and accomplished man.
In the same conversation he was asked what he believed was at the root of the personal and professional success he had over the years. He did not speak to his own intellect, thirst for knowledge, tact, professional network, tenacity or passion to simply make things happen. His response was that throughout his life he always tried to follow the Ten Commandments and that every day, sometimes multiple times a day, he would Pray to the Holy Spirit for direction. Regardless of your religious convictions or beliefs, I find this as well to be a most humble and enlightened response from such a remarkable, honorable and accomplished man.
I am so very blessed that this remarkable man, who Congressman Todd Rokita honors on the floor of Congress below, making this tribute a part of the Congressional Record forever, was and will forever be my grandfather.
Beautiful Sean. Thank you for getting who WFH really was. All the very best to you and yours.
Sean, that was a beautiful and inspiring summary of your grandfather and your relationship with him. It makes me want to continue to be a better, father, husband, son and friend. Thank you for that and putting life in perspective.
Sean, what a beautifully written tribute! You do you grandfather’s memory great honor. Moreover, there is no doubt that many of the qualities I see within you are a reflection of your grandfather. Thanks for sharing!
Beautiful tribute, Sean. Clearly an inspiring man who lived a full life and left a remarkable legacy with his family and work. Thanks for sharing this.
I can see a lot of your grandfather in you; how you do business, how you manage relationships, and how you keep friendships. A great man to learn from and a wonderfully written piece about his life. Thank you for sharing.
Absolutely beautiful relationship & recollections.
Really great tribute to your Grandfather. Wish I had the opportunity to meet him.