Joel was a master presenter.
As head of research for a major radio broadcasting company, he spent a lot of time explaining the research to people both above and below his paygrade.
When explaining complex details to folks who didn't know much about research, he would get a lot of questions. Many of them off-point or unexpectedly obtuse.
And he would handle them all smoothly with skill and confidence.
In these group sessions, nothing could throw him off his game. He had a quick and easy to understand comeback for every question asked or point of confusion brought up.
He was a rock. The iceman. Cool. Calm. Collected.
Except for this one time.
We were in San Francisco at a highly successful station.
As Joel was masterfully presenting the plan for the station’s marketing research, he touched upon the types of outreach he would be spearheading, including Mall Intercept Surveys to get immediate, in-context feedback.
A hand went up.
It was Steve M, one of the station’s incredibly popular DJs.
Steve could best be described as the stereotype ultra-chill, surfer-dude California stoner. Think Sean Penn’s character Jeff Spicoli in the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”.
Steve waved his hand.
Joel said, “Yes. Steve.”
Steve said, “Is that mall like where you shop or maul like what a bear does to a camper?”
For the first time in a hundred presentations, I saw Joel's facade start to crack.
“Uh … Steve … I’m not sure what you’re asking.”
“Dude, you said ‘mall interception’ … is that like mall like where you buy stuff or like maul like what a bear does to a camper?”
Joel stifled a chuckle.
Then he realized that Steve was asking a legitimate question. At least legitimate in Steve’s mind.
Which made the question that much funnier.
“Steve, you want to know if the research we're going to do is going to take place in a shopping mall or in a campground where a hiker is getting attacked by a bear?”
At least that what Joel tried to say.
He could only get out a word or two at a time as he was increasingly overwhelmed by laughter.
It was the first and only time that I saw the unflappable Joel break his buttoned-up presentation demeanor.
Joel eventually regained his composure and let Steve and the rest of the room know that the research would not include the use of wild homicidal woodland creatures.
And Steve’s question became a form of communication between Joel and me. For a year or so, I don’t think a week went by without one of us asking the other, “Is that mall like where you shop or maul like what a bear does to a camper?"
Joel has stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
When he called to tell me, I felt like I'd been mauled by a bear.
Joel Reish passed 2 weeks after this was written.
The day after his 62nd birthday, 2022.
May his family find peace in their memories of him
as the truly good man he was.