Remembering IDG Founder Pat McGovern, breaking out THE sweater

Publishing hero passes away, leaves incredible legacy

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I'll never be mistaken for a fashionista, but I do own a very limited edition IDG letterman sweater that I've taken great pride in wearing once a year for the past 20+ winters.

From what I understand, this size 48, 100% acrylic red sweater is one of only a dozen or so in existence (some are also blue). It came from a meeting of Network World parent company IDG's higher ups that my then-roommate attended back in the late 1980s during his brief post-college career at IDG. My ex-roommate has a considerably smaller frame than I do, so he gave the sweater to me, since I wound up taking a job at Network World around that time. I wasn't quite sure what to do with it, but hung it in my closet.

Fast forward to my first holiday season at IDG and the big news was that company founder Pat McGovern would be making his annual rounds to thank employees across the United States individually, and hand them a holiday card and a bonus. It struck me that donning the sweater would be a good way for me, a newbie at the time, to break the ice with the big man, affectionately known as Uncle Pat.

Sure enough, Pat recognized the sweater and asked for the story of how I acquired it. He joked, I think, about seeing if I could coerce my old roommate to come back to the company.

From there, I just kept the sweater in one of my office drawers and pulled it out whenever Pat would make his visit. It always made for good light conversation, with then Network World editor John Gallant frequently pointing out that the sweater might not last given its rate of pilling.

While I never worked day-to-day with Pat, I think the sweater helped him make a connection with me. He always greeted me by name even when I would run into him at IDG events sans that unique item of clothing. He had a legendary ability to recall names, faces and facts about people, but it probably didn't hurt to give him a few prompts with which to work.

Another great tradition established by Pat at IDG was to take employees to dinner for their 10th anniversary at the company. For mine, at the Ritz in Boston with about 5 colleagues, I traded in the sweater for a suit. I recall my colleagues looking like deer in headlights in Pat's presence, basically waiting for Pat to talk. But once they warmed up and the bubbly started flowing, we all had a great conversation, with Pat sharing amusing stories of his endless travels.

One thing Pat would always tell employees at these dinners is that they then belonged to his VIP club, his inner circle, and could ask him for anything down the road. I almost used up my "ask" a few years later when I heard funding was hard to come by for an IDC basketball group I'd been playing with, but held off when money did come through. But I did boldly hit Pat up in 2004 when the Boston Red Sox made it to the World Series, remembering that the company had a few sweet seats behind the third base dugout. To my surprise, Pat responded right away to my desperate plea -- all the way from China -- and while he regretted not being in a position to help, he did vow that we'd do it the next time around (fully expecting, I imagine, that the Sox wouldn't be getting back to the Series just 3 years later). I didn't have the gumption to go back to him in 2007 though. 

It wasn't like I hadnt already taken advantage of Pat's generosity throughout my years here. I emailed him every so often to get his take on industry trends, most recently regarding STEM education, and again he responded from China.  In person, I asked him things like "Which social networks are you using?" and, uh, "Can you follow me on Twitter?"

Memorably, his assistant let me use the shower on the floor nearby Pat's office at IDG headquarters a few times after finishing the Boston Marathon, since the building is within a block of the finish line. In his office: A life size cardboard cut-out of Pat to oversee the place while he was on the road. 

One other memory I do have is that our internal company newsletter would ask employees on the cusp of their 10th anniversary dinner to fill out a little form to give others across the company a peek into your personality. A question always asked was "Which 5 people from now or the past would you most like to have dinner with?" There would have been no better answer than Pat McGovern himself.

Pat, who died yesterday, made one final pre-holiday trip through the company last year to thank employees for their efforts. I did break out the sweater and we again had a nice talk. Today, the sweater hangs from my office door.

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