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 by using his mind, his hands, and the keyboard. If the fight would eventually come to an end, who better to chronicle it than this prolific observer of the craft he devoted a career to, and of a life well lived?
How prolific was Art van Bodegraven Jr.? Consider this. After he retired from a long career as practitioner, educator, and consultant, he turned to writing. For DC Velocity, he co-authored with his partner-in-crime, Ken Ackerman, a kindred soul of wit and panache, a column called "BasicTraining" that ran for 14 years and was consistently one of the best-read parts of the magazine. 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 Two days after his June 18 passing, we were stunned to find that he had 125 unpublished blogs in the queue, a chunk of which we believe he penned knowing he was gravely ill. (We are privileged to post them, as well as prior blogs.) We can hear him speaking through the prose, with the characteristic twinkle in his eye and smile creasing his face, that "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—no matter how successful his tenure. 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 the next generations of practitioners, an opportunity that generally comes only to those who can comfortably relate to people coming up behind them.
All of this speaks to 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 enjoyment of his company. It is not hyperbole to say that Art injected brilliant color in what is often a black-and-white industry.
What about that self-styled obit idea? Unfortunately, no one on the staff (including this writer) had 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, we couldn't think of anything more apropos than simply, "The Art of Art."
That sobriquet lives on, a tribute to a man who made his trade, and more importantly, his life, an art form.
Editor's note: Art was a more prolific writer than we realized. An earlier version of this column, and the version that appeared in print, understated the number of blog posts he had queued up. We regret the error.