August 11, 2017

Giving the Gift of Family Biography


Growing up, I knew little about the professional side of my dad, an aerospace executive. I knew he traveled all the time from our suburban Los Angeles home to places like St. Louis and Dayton and Cleveland.

I knew that TWA was his airline of choice. I remember that he once sat next to Lassie, the collie from the classic TV series. My dad always brought me paper umbrella toothpicks from his airline drinks, and foreign dolls from his occasional overseas jaunts. I was delighted equally by both.

Little did I understand then, or even later, how much of an impact my father was making on the world, on America’s security, and on the advent of a technology critical to our way of life today. You see, my dad, Jim Easton, led Hughes Aircraft’s radar systems group. They outfitted Air Force and Navy jet fighters with cutting-edge technology. During his time at Hughes, radar systems went from analog to digital; from detecting blurred images that might be a missile or a flock of birds to pinpoint imagery and precision feedback that would transform everything from defending America to protecting oceans.

My dad was a key part of that.

What I love about our work at SellersEaston is helping people like my dad unlock stories that will inform and inspire future generations—children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, yes, but also historians eager to look beneath surface headlines.

The reason my SellersEaston partner, Pattie Sellers, and I moved from telling stories about successful people for Fortune Magazine to telling stories for individuals and families (and companies and organizations) is simple: we’re now in an era where anyone can own their story and get it to the precise audience they want to reach. That audience may be the grown children of remarkable but uncelebrated men like my dad. Typically, children approach us, hoping we can capture the essence of their parents. Hoping that with our help, they can give their parents the gift of legacy.

These personal stories are often complex, even jumbled, and can seem difficult to shape into a narrative. The more complex, the better. Pattie and I love the process of parsing narratives that have unfolded over the decades of a life, or lives. We relish helping our clients organize their stories, communicate them through interviews or more informal conversations, and share them via film biographies or illustrated books or other formats where we provide our expertise.

Everybody has a story. Everybody has, within them, rewarding wisdom—and usually eye-popping nuggets. Like this one: “I’m in the KGB’s files!” my dad blurted out to me, before going on to recount the story of how the FBI had tasked him with helping uncover a Polish spy ring operating inside the U.S. aerospace industry.

Now that’s a gem worth preserving.

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