The Empty Office Next Door

On Thursday I learned that a dear friend and colleague, Ken Golonka, had died unexpectedly.  He was one of my oldest friends at the firm — we’ve known each other since we were summer clerks, 26 years ago — and he worked in the office right next to mine.  We saw each other every work day, and he was one of the finest people I knew.

Ken was one of the best real estate and commercial lawyers in Ohio, yet he was completely unpretentious about his intellect, his lawyering abilities, and the high regard in which he was held by his colleagues, his clients, and even opposing counsel.  Ken served for years in one of the most important jobs at our firm, as chair of the committee that evaluates associates, and it was as if he were made for that position.  He was fair, thoughtful, and keenly interested in listening to other viewpoints and achieving consensus.  He had great credibility because it was obvious to all that he was not trying to pursue an agenda, he was just trying to do what he believed was right.  His untimely passing is an enormous loss for our firm.

Of course, that loss pales in comparison to the devastating sense of loss felt by Ken’s family and friends.  Ken loved his wife, Denise, and their six children.  They were the central focus of his life, and that fact made Ken a very happy man.  He was always going to a play, or a sporting event, or making a college visit, or peddling Girl Scout cookies.  He loved to talk about Denise and the kids, their many achievements, and their adventures together, and he seemed to have almost perfect recall of everything they did.  His close relationship with his family left him comfortable and fulfilled.  Those qualities showed in just about everything he did and made him an easy person to be around.  He never felt he had anything to prove.

Physically, Ken was a memorable character.  Big and bear-like, he had a pleasant, open face and a ready smile.  He wore his remaining hair close-cropped.   He certainly was no slave to fashion, and it was typical to see him with glasses askew and shirttail falling out of the back of his pants.  He had a goofy sense of humor and liked to laugh.  And when he laughed — when his eyes would crinkle and the high-pitched hee-hee-hee would erupt from that happy face — it would light up a room.

I called him Skip, and he called me Skippy.  I cannot believe that I will never see this wonderful person again.  It hurts like hell to walk past that now-dark and empty office next door.


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