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The Man Who Gave and Went

Last night in Portland, Oregon, a memorial service was held for Brian Doyle, an award-winning writer of essays and fiction who was editor of  Portland Magazine, published by the University of Portland. Brian died this past May from a brain tumor.

Although I met Brian only twice and can’t count myself among his close friends, I’ve felt indebted to him for at least the past 10 years. When we redesigned LMU Magazine, the first issue of which appeared in July 2010, we studied Brian’s Portland magazine closely. In fact, we studied it even before then, with admiration. With envy. Brian filled the pages with humor, intelligence, cleverness, beauty, confidence, whimsey and an optimistic Catholic outlook on life that found evidence of God in all places and things. Brian was a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, a product of Holy Cross priests, but I saw a strong Ignatian — that is to say, Jesuit — streak in his writing. I never got to ask him whether he would consider that a compliment or an insult.

Brian gave his magazine a unique voice and personality. Every page made the case for why a Portland education would be like no other for the student who chose to accept it. Every optimistic, insightful page offered alumni and all Portland’s communities a reason to support the university in the form of a welcoming invitation to be part of something important, smart, committed and even fun. Brian understood that people, including donors, would be attracted more by opportunity than obligation.

We learned from many of Brian’s lessons, all while knowing they’d bear no fruit if not applied with a deep understanding of LMU’s unique identity. When LMU Magazine finally debuted, it looked nothing like Portland magazine. Some congratulated us, saying, “LMU Magazine LOOKS like LMU!” Yet, to me Brian’s influence always has been clear, a mark of invisible hands.

Although I wasn’t at Brian’s memorial service last evening, I knew his family and friends in Portland were gathering to honor him. He was on my mind all day. Coincidentally, yesterday afternoon I happened across an essay of his in Notre Dame Magazine that warmed my heart. Generosity of spirit seems all too rare a virtue these days, but Brian had as much as you’d find among the population of a small town. His wealth made the lives of countless others richer. You can see a glimpse of Brian’s gift in his essay, whose title pays tribute to him as much as it serves the story.