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A tribute to the late Jon Boorman.
Originally published October 24th, 2020.
In memoriam: From the Latin phrase “into memory (of),” referring to and honoring one who has passed on.
On the first morning after you’ve turned ashen, having lost the final struggle against fate, the only thing that matters to the world left behind is the legacy you created.
This week FinTwit lost a good man, Jon Boorman, who by all accounts left a legacy worth aspiring to.
I first met Jon in 2012 at Stocktoberfest, and right away I clocked him as a financial groupie, the type who hangs around the grey peripheries of trading, investing, and money management - but doesn’t do any themselves.
It was so obvious there was no way he could be a finance professional, what with his jeans, long hair, and three-day stubble.
And to top it off, he was British.
But as it invariably turns out in these situations, I was dead wrong.
Jon was the real deal, having started at Schroders - the 200-year-old British multinational asset management firm – in 1987, just three weeks before turning eighteen.
From there he moved on to Kemper Investments and then Lehman Bros before relocating to the United States where he would eventually start his own money management firm.
Jon was no poser.
And I liked him right away.
He spoke with an easy charm; laid back, funny, self-effacing, and all wrapped in an accent which, though still distinctly English, had modulated somewhat after almost a decade of living in North Carolina.
While enjoying many adult beverages on the deck of the Hotel Del Coronado we bonded over markets, music, and our mutual trials and tribulations as members of the “5% Club” – those who are cursed/blessed to be both left-handed and left-footed.
Over the next few years, we’d run into each other at various industry events, where I was always glad to see him, sometimes particularly so.
Most of you know that it takes a Herculean effort to get me out of California. If someone’s not dying or getting married – often hard to tell the difference – the chances of seeing me east of Vegas are low.
Which is why once, after reluctantly traveling to NYC and about to venture into the bowels of a dreaded industry networking gig where I knew nobody, you can only imagine my surprise and delight to hear from behind me, “Mr. Brian Lund,” whereupon I turned and saw Jon’s smiling face.
He was kind enough to shepherd me through dozens of introductions that night and I ended up having a great time in spite of myself.
But that’s how it was when you hung out with Jon, you always felt that he left your side of the ledger fuller than you left his.
A couple of years later I was running content at a fintech startup and decided that we should bring guest contributors onto our platform.
Jon was my first call.
He wrote about trading with an elegant, simple, and accessible style that belied the complexity of the underlying topics he addressed, and when I asked him if he’d contribute a piece he said he’d be delighted - but I’d have to wait a month.
“I’m taking the family on vacation for most of June. Going to Ireland and the UK but I can put something together after I return.”
That’s another thing I liked about Jon; he always had his priorities straight.
When he returned, he sent me his take on letting winners run, which stunned me both in its originality and for the fact that I’d never seen anyone articulate anything similar before.
After it was published we saw an immediate uptick in website traffic. Soon, major outlets like Morningstar, MarketWatch, and Abnormal Returns were linking to the piece and we began to get a steady stream of requests to excerpt the article.
When I called Jon to let him know that his piece had gone viral, he seemed genuinely surprised at the attention it was receiving, remarking with his characteristic humility, “I thought what I wrote was just common sense.”
Check it out here. It’s a must-read.
Over the following years, we stayed in touch via email and the random phone call, sometimes talking about the market but more often about Jon’s true passion, music.
Jon was a fan of classic rock, but we mostly talked about the music we loved from our youth, which was widely disparate despite our similar ages, he favoring Britpop and I punk rock.
Fun Boorman Fact: Everyone knows that Jon’s favorite band was the Rolling Stones, but he was also a big fan of The Stone Roses, once telling me that their self-titled debut was the “perfect album.”
Last year, after not hearing from him for a while and thinking he’d get a kick out of it, I sent him a piece I’d written about learning to play drums on a right-handed kit and the way in which it affected my sound.
I was sitting in a Target parking lot waiting for my wife when I got his response.
“Awesome, what a great read. As you know, I’m left-handed and left-footed but have been forced to do almost everything right. It’s a cruel world!”
Then, almost as an afterthought, he added;
“Unfortunately, I haven't been well. I've been diagnosed with Glioblastoma, a fatal brain cancer. I've had surgery and radiation/chemo. I just got a new scan which was good, but it will come back eventually. I'm traveling a lot. Let's get together when I'm nearby. Love your writing.”
As much as I liked Jon, I can’t say that we were close – there are many others who knew him longer and more intimately – but he was a friend and one who, no matter how much time had passed between connecting, always made you feel as if you’d just talked yesterday.
So when the impact of this gut-punch settled, I found myself crying with a depth and sorrow that took me by surprise.
My wife returned to find me inconsolable and kept asking, “what’s wrong,” but all I could manage to choke out were the words “It’s not fair” over and over again.
Last December, a group of us got together in Charlotte to watch Jon and his band perform what would ultimately be one of his last gigs.
It was an amazing night.
The love in the room was palpable, and with all the energy and passion Jon put into his performance you could forgive yourself for thinking that maybe, just maybe he was going to be one of the rare few who beat Glioblastoma.
For a while, things looked surprisingly good as he responded well to treatment. And Jon put that extra time it afforded him to good use, embarking upon a series of bucket list trips and experiences, the images of which he shared on his Twitter feed as abundantly as he had once shared stock charts in what was now a previous life.
Staying in touch was tricky as I wanted to let Jon know I was thinking of him but didn’t want to burden him or cause him to take time away from living his best life.
When I was a new father and found myself awake in the middle of the night, it gave me great comfort to “check-in” on my kids, walking down to their room, pausing at the doorway, and listening for the sounds of gentle snoring.
It let me know that they were there, and okay.
So from time to time, I sent Jon an old Stones clip I’d come across or ask for a music suggestion, any excuse to just “check-in” and see if he was okay, and each time I’d soon get a short reply.
“Thanks for the note. I’ve been listening to the Animals and some Dylan rarities lately. Probably not your cup of tea, but you might be surprised.”
“Someone may have already leaked the news, but I got some positive results from my last test. Can’t complain.”
“Heading across the pond to the Cheltenham Festival soon. It’s a blast. I can’t wait!
But recently the replies starting slowing, then finally stopped, along with his Twitter activity.
I suspected the worst and mutual friends in Charlotte confirmed that Jon’s health had taken a downturn.
Still, it seemed like he had more time, and I wasn’t prepared for the news that came on Wednesday morning.
There’s a risk when memorializing someone of injecting too much “I” instead of “them” into the elegy - something I’m no doubt already guilty of doing - but given that I knew him for a relatively short time and only in a cursory way, I’ve given a lot of thought as to why Jon’s illness and ultimate passing has affected me so deeply.
It could be that having lost my father to a brain tumor I know and understand all too well the unique pain and suffering he and his family had to endure along his journey, the conclusion of which also involved a father leaving his two young children behind.
Or it could be that, not unlike the late Anthony Bourdain, Jon seemed to have everything going for him. He was what everyone – okay, me at least – wanted to be, the good-looking long-haired Rockstar who could trade and was liked by everybody.
And to have that all taken away seems infinitely unfair.
But in truth, it’s much simpler than that.
In the end, Jon’s death was particularly sad because he was just a really, really good person.
A nice guy who was always willing to help others.
Or as Michael Batnick succinctly put it in his tribute to Jon, a mensch.
You only have to look at the outpouring of responses following the news of his death to see that view reinforced a thousand-fold.
In the end, there’s not much you can say when a light like Jon’s is extinguished, except to reiterate my initial reaction, it’s not fair.
However, that being said, I know that once the tears have dried I will always look back and smile when thinking of Jonathan James Boorman, grateful that he was here and that I knew him, even if ever so briefly.