Tuesday, December 9, 2008

RIP Anne Filipowski 1970-2008

This is Anne Filipowski, one of my favourite people ever.

When I first came to Toronto, I was shuttling back and forth between two offices: the offices of BetCorp's software and marketing division, on Richmond Street at Spadina, and the offices of Bodog Music, on Yonge Street -- at FINCH (or thereabouts -- for you non-Torontonians, that's like TEN MILES from downtown). It was February, 2007, and after ten years in Vancouver, Toronto was ghastly. Cold, howling winds, and mile after mile of flat, unbroken cityscape. No mountains. No beaches. No bald eagles. Very very few harbour seals.

The Bodog Music office was a bit of a ramshackle affair, with customer service reps in dingy grey cubicles, office supplies scattered about and my team -- a couple of php developers, a few designers and a project manager -- stuffed into dark offices seemingly as far away from the rest of the company as possible.

There was a really kitchen area, though. And a great balcony, which in Toronto in February is not quite as enticing as you might think.

I knew not a soul in Toronto. I could barely find my way to the office. And Torontonian are, well, Lord love them, but they just aren't quite as... friendly... as Westerners. They try.

Some of them.

So it was kind of lonely for Corey in those first few weeks. But I always looked forward to the long trek up to the Bodog Music office, because I knew I would end up crossing paths and inevitably sarcastic barbs with the operations manager, Anne Filipowski. At some point in my day there would come the solemn exchange:

"Reid."

"Filipowski."

I actually had to practice saying her name so that I could deliver it in the same deadpan monotone she did mine. I'm not kidding. I'd be on the subway, repeating "Filipowski, Filipowski, Filipowski," the whole way up. Maybe the apparent unfriendliness of Torontonians isn't so hard to explain.

But of course, that was only the opening salvo. Then came the exchange of sarcastic quips, sneers, and non sequiturs. The goal was always to make her laugh before I cracked up, but I came off the worse most of the time. Filipowski had a serious deadpan, and had that knack for sprinkling her outrageous sarcasm with enough outrageous sincerity that you were always wondering if she really meant that or if... and then you'd see that grin and you knew she'd gotten you again.

It was exciting because it was a challenge. Filipowski had that effect on people -- she raised everyone's game. You had to pay attention around Anne, because she was so smart and always paying attention and if you didn't keep up, you were going to get shown up. But always with humour and always with respect for others.

Even if Toronto had stayed as unpleasant as it was that February (and it hasn't, by the way; love this town), it still would have been worth coming here to meet Anne. Last time I saw her we went to an Argentinian restaurant for lunch (Argentinian food means steak, apparently) and she told me wacky stories about driving around Greece and we laughed about the lunacy of this business we both worked in. I had hoped at some point that FreshBooks would find itself needing a woman of Filipowski's immense talents, but it never happened.

She also promised to take me out to lunch next time. Damn it.