Last night, before turning off the lights to go to sleep, I got news that no one likes to receive. My friend and fellow homeland security blogger John Solomon passed away following complications from a stem cell transplant for treatment of leukemia. John had fought the disease a year or so before and had successfully beaten it back, but this past summer, it returned. The news was an absolute shock to me. From our most recent e-mails, I knew he was fighting the fight and had his good days and bad days, but he was still in the fight swinging and his life was going forward.
While there is by no means a formal association of homeland security bloggers, John was what I would call our gentle conscience. Despite the operational missteps or ineptitude that you often find in disasters of all shapes and sizes, his many words were never harsh, lecturing or ranting. Instead, they were the measured conversation that you might have with a friend over a cup of coffee in a corner diner. Making his living as a journalist, writing for outlets such as the New York Times, National Public Radio and USA Today, John’s beat allowed him to cover homeland security and other public policy areas.
My first encounter with John was on the pages of the Sunday Washington Post Outlook section, May 18, 2008. Just days before the opening of the 2008 hurricane season, John had somehow, someway found himself sharing the page with featured Sunday editorial columnists like George Will, E.J. Dionne and some of the other featured talking national heads on issues of the day. His editorial, It’s an Emergency. We’re Not Prepared, offered a citizen’s view of where we are as a nation in our readiness to deal with the next disaster.
I have to admit, I was really envious. Here was this guy that seemingly out of nowhere had plopped himself on the pages of the Post and made the most frank and gentle of arguments for a subject that I and others I knew also felt so passionate about. There is not a homeland security blogger that I know who would not want to have the space that John occupied in one of the most read newspapers in the world.
His take though was very different. Rather than engage in the traditional mode of finger pointing at the Bush Administration, DHS, FEMA or at state and local leaders, John instead held up a mirror to his readers to look at their own reflection and ask where they were when it comes to their individual and family preparedness.
While this approach may not seem to be overly novel or insightful, his take was completely and utterly refreshing. Here was John, just an average guy, using the various resources and programs available to him to “prepare” himself and his family who, in the most humble of ways, told us all that we must take getting ready more seriously and get more involved as a national community.
Let’s face it. We’ve heard speech after speech from presidents, DHS secretaries, FEMA leaders, and more saying these things time after time, but when those words come from a friend, a neighbor or just a friendly person we met who offers some helpful, non-judgmental insight, we might pause to give the words real reflection. That was John.
His words though were not just words – they were a calling of personal action that he took very seriously but had a lot of fun with along the way. His blog, In Case of Emergency, became the user-friendly place for people to get common-sense answers and insight on how to prepare themselves and their families for emergencies in all forms. While his site had regular visitors who could get the information they wanted, John was not content for his words to be stationary. He was diligently working on a book that families could have as a “How-to” guide to prepare themselves.
Even in his own life, John could not be stationary. Rather than sit in the stands and point out the rights and wrongs of the play-calling on the disaster field (which is really easy), John became an active and accomplished member of New York City’s Citizen Emergency Response Team (CERT).
To John, his words on preparedness weren’t just an assembly of letters coming together to make a complete sentence and convey a thought. They were a call to personal action and responsibility that he had for the family he loved; the community that he shared; and the people he knew as well as the care of those he never met. That is a metric that anyone could be proud of, but it is somehow even more fulfilling for a wise man named Solomon.
I can’t underestimate John’s warmth and passion for his fellow man and how it could leap from the words he would put on a page. His energy, care and commitment to do the right thing for his family, friends and community are an example to us all. To those of us who first got to know John through his writings, you came to realize that he didn’t just write words; he lived them in ways big and small.
I can think of no better testament to a life that has made a tremendous difference.
John’s book of life was far too short, but like the man who wrote it, it was rich, full of life and taught us all some wonderful things. I’m going to miss him, and I know I won’t be alone.