"I have been talking to his close friends, "said Matt Bennett, "and they are all a wreck about this." 'This' is the sickness and death of 63-year-old Eli Segal, a former Democratic campaign operative and head of countless good guy organizations including AmeriCorps, the domestic Peace Corps created during the Clinton administration.
Bennett, who worked with Segal in the Wesley Clark campaign for president, had been asked to compile material for an obit, something no one ever wanted to see.
On Wednesday, Boston's Temple Israel was packed with hundreds of friends of Eli's from presidential campaigns ranging fromand George McGovern to Bill Clinton and Wesley Clark, in addition to many alums of AmeriCorps.
Since the word spread that Eli was seriously ill from mesothelioma, there have been over 7700 visitors to the Caringbridge.org web site, a fabulous site that kept people informed of his condition and allowed friends to e-mail messages of love and concern for the smart, warm consummate citizen and politician who touched so many.
Eli had a wonderful smile and a twinkle in his eye that made you want to see it over and over. My husband - who worked for him as a young lawyer on the McGovern Commission tasked with redoing the Democratic Party's nominating rules - said he never remembered working so hard, not because Eli put any pressure on him but because he never wanted to let Eli down.
David Henkel, who worked for Segal at AmeriCorps, had the same recollection. "Disappointing Eli would be like disappointing your Dad," Henkel said. Eli was one of those inspirational leaders who threw himself into campaigns and causes and brought people with him because his excitement and commitment were so complete and so infectious.
Eli never stopped getting excited about people and causes and never stopped believing he could make a difference. He was, of course, human and would occasionally get discouraged. His friend Miles Rubin once told me that he thought some people got discouraged because their expectations were too high.
But Eli would bounce back and after others from a campaign or a project had returned to "real life," Eli would be back in action and on the phone, coaxing them back, telling them that this candidate or that idea was the greatest yet. And soon they would re-up in Eli's Army.