In recent months, as we heard that his health was failing, we mused over an idea that was highly unorthodox to say the least: asking Art van Bodegraven to write his own obituary.
Morbid? In the eyes of some, perhaps. But, knowing Art, we sensed he would have been amused at the prospect, relished the assignment, and handled it with his usual élan. His introspection would no doubt have been spiced with the jaundiced-eye humor that people so loved about him and which made him seem much younger than the calendar would claim. Besides, he had kept the worst form of cancer—cancer of the pancreas—at bay for nearly a decade. He refused to go quietly, and his way of sticking it in cancer's eye was to use his mind, his hands, and the keyboard. If the fight would eventually come to an end, who better to chronicle it than this acclaimed practitioner, educator, and consultant, a prolific observer of the craft he devoted a career to?
How prolific was Art van Bodegraven Jr.? Consider this. For DC Velocity, he co-authored, with his partner in crime, Ken Ackerman, a kindred spirit of wit and panache, a column called Basic Training that ran for 14 years and was consistently among the magazine's best-read stories. Art also published, on average, three posts a week in the nine years that he blogged for us. Two days after his June 18 passing, we were stunned to find that he had 125 unpublished blog posts in the queue, a chunk of which we believe he wrote knowing he was gravely ill. (We are privileged to be able to post them over the coming months, and to have posted his prior blogs, on our site.) We can hear him speaking through the prose, saying with the characteristic twinkle in his eye and smile creasing his face, "I've been doing this since JFK was president, and I'm far from through!"
Art's career, his achievements, and his long list of blue-chip clients—more than 150 U.S. and global companies covering countless verticals—essentially track the history of modern-day supply chain management. Yet he refused to be saturated with the past. He steadfastly changed with advancing times and embraced innovations (the Internet of Things?) that neither he nor anyone else of his era ever could have conceived. He was asked to mentor many in the next generations of practitioners, an opportunity generally granted only to those who can comfortably relate to the people coming up behind them.
All of this speaks of a man who was as renowned for his warmth and ebullience as for his dedication and professionalism. It was striking to attend industry receptions and watch people decades younger gravitate to Art and engage him in funny and stimulating dialogue. Even crabby, cynical journalists couldn't help but seek him out for the pleasure of his company. It is not hyperbole to say that Art injected brilliant color into what is often regarded as a black-and-white industry.
What about that self-styled obit idea? Unfortunately, no one on the staff (including this writer) ever got up the nerve to ask him, so we will never know. But here is what we do know. When we were developing our blog project in 2008, we assigned subject matter titles to each blogger. When it came time to select the title for Art's blog, it was apropos to call it simply, "The Art of Art."
That sobriquet lives on, a tribute to a man who elevated his trade, and more importantly, his life, to an art form.