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A Remembrance

Farewell to a modern Tom Sawyer.

by / April 24, 2007

Chris Warner appeared on the cover of this magazine in December 2002. He appeared again among Government Technology's Top 25 because he was equal parts doer, dreamer and driver.

In a case study on leadership and collaboration, I referred to the creator of Earth 911, Pets 911 and the Amber Alert Portal as a modern day Tom Sawyer. Then, there was a thick file documenting his pursuits on behalf of the environment, our beloved pets and children in need. All this tells the story of one man's mission to take a new approach in pursuing important things.

But there was one place where his name was shockingly out of place that February weekend - an obituary.

Christopher J. Warner died at age 49. He was way too young to be sure, yet his age was a reminder that this social entrepreneur (who approached the next new thing with the energy and enthusiasm of a man half his age) had been paying his dues for a long time.

The son of a public servant, Chris saw more clearly than most that there were untapped synergies among the dot-com, dot-gov and dot-org domains. Moreover, he believed he could change the world - with our help. And Chris, along with a few hundred strangers who became his collaborators, did just that.

If the original Tom Sawyer could frustrate Aunt Polly with his approach to whitewashing a fence, Chris' kinetic energy could be crazy-making in its own right. Even as a new group of friends were figuring out the business end of a paintbrush, Chris was off scouting out the next fence - and the one after that. He always looked ahead.

Chris fundamentally believed there was a simple way to do everything. In bureaucratic environments, those are fighting words - which only intensified as projects brushed up against public safety, and jealously guarded federal funding streams.

Chris relished risk the way only entrepreneurs do, and was always up for a fight. Given the choice, he would say, "Damn the torpedoes" because he saw only limited advantage in keeping powder dry. Risk came home to roost last year when Chris lost the company he founded to bankruptcy because of protracted legal wrangling with a former business partner.

But his optimism and passion ran deep. Chris started over by getting married and launching a new campaign where he applied everything he had learned about creating online communities to keeping Alzheimer's patients and victims of domestic violence safe.

During one of my last conversations with him, he asked, "How long do you have to do this, and how many times do you have to show it works before somebody says, "Good idea, Chris, let's do it?'"

In retrospect, the question has the haunting feeling of being asked by a man who seemed to sense he didn't have enough time. Time ran out while he slept that winter morning, denying him a second act.

More's the pity - for him and for us.

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Paul W. Taylor Chief Content Officer, e.Republic Inc.

Paul W. Taylor, Ph.D., is the chief content officer of Government Technology and its parent organization, e.Republic. Prior to joining e.Republic, Taylor served as deputy Washington state CIO. Dr. Taylor came to public service following decades of work in media, Internet startups and academia. He is also among a number of affiliated experts with the nonprofit, non-partisan Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in Washington, D.C. He is creator, producer and co-host of the GovTech360 podcast.

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