Eye on the Pie and Opinion

MARCUS: Indiana loses a devoted and native son

October 17, 2009

When a friend dies, you find yourself wishing you had spent more time together. You realize how little you really know about your friend. You remember the many small moments that built respect, friendship and affection.

My friend Chris Linn died last week. He had gone to North Central High School and The College of William and Mary in Virginia, and graduated from Butler University. Chris served in Vietnam, worked in real estate and mortgage banking, helped poor people get housing, and worked at Indiana University’s Indiana Business Research Center. He had two grown sons and was married to an exceptional woman.

But there was so much more than these details to Chris, and I don’t know anyone who can summarize his humanity and his values.

Chris could fit in anywhere from a neighborhood bar to an exclusive suburban country club. When he put on a tie and dress jacket, he looked like a distinguished ambassador with his trim body and gray hair. In shirtsleeves at a baseball game, Chris was the guy who knew when to sustain a conversation as well as when not to talk because of what was happening on the field. You wanted to buy him a beer.

Chris loved golf, but his skill was engaging people. His research at the IBRC was characterized by personalization. He could interview anyone from college presidents and mayors to kids loitering on the street. From each he would derive valuable information and insight that was not accessible by standard data-gathering methods. Chris knew how to relate to people.

When we were doing school-enrollment projects at the IBRC, Chris went into the community to interview real estate agents, landowners, utility executives, city planners, homeowners, and people on the street. He drove the roads and noted the telltale signs of lifestyle unseen by most researchers. His eyes told him what the demographic and economic numbers did not reveal.

The results were objective enrollment forecasts that were far superior to the “professional” projections generated for proponents or opponents of a given building initiative.

Politically, Chris was an Indiana Republican, not one of the shrill, single-issue obstructionists. He believed in individual responsibility and was distrustful of large organizations (public or private). He would have agreed with Howard Cohen, chancellor of Purdue University-Calumet, who wants to rename tax bills “service” bills so people connect their payments with the services provided by governments.

Chris’ life ended early because he chose to continue smoking cigarettes even though he knew all along the potential consequences. The last time I talked to him, he asked me to help him get an absentee ballot so he could vote for the Wishard Hospital improvements on the November ballot in Marion County. I don’t know if he voted before he died. In either case, Chris Linn went out as a responsible citizen.

When the new year comes, I’ll miss his annual letter, a treasure of wit and invention based on the humorous truths of our ordinary lives. If Chris had written these words, they would be in limerick form. He was good at that, too.•

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Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mmarcus@ibj.com.

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