The New Profit community mourns the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Chris Herron, who passed away after a courageous battle with cancer on March 12, 2017. Chris' passion for social justice, his generous, collaborative spirit, and his sharp intellect and sense of humor were evident in all the work he did and the life he led. In his own, quiet way, he touched so many of us and left an enduring mark on our community.
To read a set of remembrances of Chris from his colleagues and the social entrepreneurs and organizations he served as a New Profit associate partner, continue reading below.
Our continued thoughts are with his family, friends, and all the people whose lives he impacted personally and professionally. If you would like to share any thoughts or memories of Chris, please email us at email@example.com.
Kelly Cutler, Partner, New Profit
I first met Chris at a Starbucks near Faneuil Hall. He was interviewing me to see if I might be a good cultural fit to work at New Profit. I, too, was interviewing him to try to assess the same question as I pondered a move from the stable job I was in. I left that conversation thinking if everyone is as witty, thoughtful, and kind-hearted as Chris, New Profit would be a great place to work. I started at New Profit shortly thereafter and Chris and I became colleagues and fast friends. I saw that the qualities in Chris I first observed over our coffee chat were accurate but went even deeper. He wasn't just witty - he was hysterical - often delivering his jokes with such a straight face that you could miss them if you weren't paying attention. His thoughtfulness was actually brilliance - which could be seen in the thorough way he approached his work, often pushing the team to use data, take risks, and learn from our failures. And his kind-heartedness was a true love for people and an instinct to support and care for others.
Over time, Chris and I formed a small learning group with two others on our team. We called ourselves the CK3 group - a product of our initials. And over the course of many years, we'd talk weekly. Sometimes we gave each other advice on the projects we were working on individually or strategized about how we could improve something collectively. Other times we caught up on our weekends, with Chris sharing stories of playing tennis or board games with friends or family. And as each of our lives became more complicated, we sometimes had conversations with long deep pauses as one of us or all of us wept. And when we were all at a loss for words, we still felt held by each other's love and friendship.
Last year, at the Gathering of Leaders - an event put on by New Profit that Chris had a major hand in organizing - I had the chance to walk along Pebble Beach with Chris and a co-worker from our CK3 group. The sun was setting and the wind was strong, but we walked together taking in the ocean. We wondered aloud if we'd all be there the following year at the next Gathering of Leaders. For me, the question was about my professional trajectory and where my career path would take me. But I sensed that for Chris the question had a heavier meaning. He'd already gone through multiple surgeries and treatments, and I didn't know at that moment what the status was of his health. I wondered to myself if he would still be with us. And then he wasn't.
Yet Chris IS still with us in so many ways. His memory lives on in the stories we share about him. We try to emulate the qualities that made him so special and that made each of us better for having known him. And we'll carry him in our hearts forever.
Amina Fahmy, Partner, New Profit
It is impossible for words to capture Chris' full impact on me personally and professionally. Chris was my manager, a mentor, a co-conspirator, and friend. We spent hours together at coffee shops, offices, and homes, brainstorming, co-creating, disagreeing, laughing, and dreaming up better ways for driving impact and results for our portfolio practice and organizations. As my first manager and mentor at New Profit, Chris played a critical role in helping me navigate a new work culture, further understand my strengths and liabilities, and push myself beyond my comfort zone. He was a role model for authentic leadership; always making sure people around the table felt heard and working to surface diverse points of views. One of his greatest gifts to me was showing me, time and time again that our difference of opinion and perspective--and we tended to see things differently--was a strength when engaged productively. I learned so much from him, not only from the substance of his views and his insights, but also the way he engaged others, made them laugh, and inspired them to care more deeply about the work and each other. I am without a doubt better for having known him and forever blessed by the friendship and guidance that he gave me.
Jesús Gerena, Family Independence Initiative
Reflecting on when we met Chris Herron in 2010 and his many professional contributions first as a partner and funder, and then as a Board Member of the Family Independence Initiative (FII-National), it's impossible to convey his incredible impact on the growth of our work across the country. But more than that, Chris' profound impact was on the people inside of the organization, as a friend. He was a friend we could depend on for support and who understood that our work is first and foremost about people and relationships. We will miss his thoughtful nature and quiet presence, his humor, and the care that he offered to us all. It has been said that 'the revolutionary is guided by deep feelings of love.' Chris brought the meaning of these words to life, and we are the better for having known him.
Eliza Greenberg, Managing Partner, New Profit
When I first met Chris, I thought he was Kevin. Or maybe I thought Kevin was Chris? Soon, though, he became distinguishable as the brilliant, somewhat elusive, kind, drywitted colleague he was.
I never really knew when Chris was kidding. He would deliver a joke with the same gravitas and seriousness as if he were presenting the revised growth diagnostic. The one time I actually thought he was joking, when he overnight took over my part of the pod with his prodigious piles of stuff, he was actually serious.
His brilliance and kindness were less of a puzzle. He carried these everywhere with him like his messenger bag, effortlessly slung over his shoulder. Because both were effortless for him. His brilliance shone through in his relentless and fearless drive towards meaning. Chris always slowed me down, made me question my assumptions and pushed me to prize quality over expediency.
Chris’s kindness was in his eyes. To look into his eyes, was to see a reservoir of compassion and loyalty. As private as he could sometimes be, he was also someone who felt my trials and tribulations as keenly as if they were his own. I never felt alone when I was with Chris.
I felt close to Chris on a level that didn’t require words (which worked well given how sparing he could be!).Whether I needed a laugh, a pause, a silent companion or a gentle push – Chris was there. And somehow, because Chris was all soul, I still feel him and the witty, kind, analytical, observant quirkiness that made Chris, Chris.
Kevin Greer, Partner, New Profit
For the past weeks I’ve been trying to process Chris’ passing, and like many, have struggled to find words that adequately capture the sadness and loss that comes with losing a trusted friend and colleague too early. Without sufficient words, I’m left with memories—many, many memories—that I’ve relied on, to reflect the Chris I knew.
For the past five years I’ve been privileged to have regularly spent an hour per week with Chris and two other colleagues as part of an internal and informal peer mentoring group at New Profit. In these honest and open conversations about our personal lives and professional leadership journeys, I experienced Chris at his very best. Thoughtful, reflective, and supportive. Passionate, entrepreneurial, and driven. Committed, curious, and kind. Strategic, perceptive, and of course, whip-smart. Our sometimes weighty topics were regularly broken up with Chris’ dry wit and accompanying deadpan expressions. Our discussions of personal leadership growth were encouraged by his unrelenting orientation towards learning. And if ever flagging, our spirits were buoyed by his optimism, commitment to social impact, and strong resolve.
New Profit, and our entire sector, lost a tremendous advocate when we lost Chris. I’m thankful to have had the chance to learn from him so closely, in so many ways, for so many years. While I carry many fond memories, I take the most comfort in knowing that I—and anyone touched by his life—will forever be shaped, informed, inspired—and mentored—by Chris.
George Overholser, Chairman of the Board, Third Sector Capital Partners
Chris was a godsend to me and our work at Nonprofit Finance Fund. At a high level, we had invented a new way of tracking the relationship between nonprofit capital and sustained social impact. But it had never been applied in the field. Enter Chris Herron, who singlehandedly reached out to a dozen busy nonprofits and worked with them to -- for the very first time -- turn theory into practice. The result was our annual performance report, a sophisticated and important piece of work that was entirely of Chris' design. That was almost a decade ago, and the beginning of a relationship with Chris that was always marked by his gentle and quiet (but somehow kick-ass just the same) way of working with us all to make progress in this messy world. He was a light in our lives and will certainly be missed!
Elizabeth Riker, Partner, New Profit
I remember the day Chris accepted our offer to join New Profit in 2010. He was our first big hire at a time when we were about to double in size, and we'd been holding our breath since he was by far the best candidate for the role, and he had another offer with a compensation package which we couldn’t match.
So when he called me to accept the offer, I was delighted. And from the early days, he proved himself to be a super talented and committed team member and a fun, thoughtful colleague who would always take the time to offer an ear and wise counsel when I was up against a challenge.
And over the last four years, during what were, in many ways, dark times as he was battling this sudden and confounding illness, I got to know Chris as a friend. Chris was an exceedingly private person so if, and when, he brought you into his confidence it felt especially meaningful.
I remember on one occasion when I asked him what would cheer him up post-surgery, he suggested a cooking lesson. He loved eating good food and rarely cooked for himself. I was delighted with my task and brought over the ingredients for one of my favorite recipes and my best teaching voice to convey my years of cooking wisdom.
As we started to prepare the ingredients together, he pulled out one after another specialized gadgets for grating, chopping, and slicing. Impressed and a bit surprised, I nonetheless proceeded with my teaching. And then as I started to chop the garlic rather clumsily, Chris offered me a knife and haltingly suggested I take a different position. He then proceeded to demonstrate how to handle the knife and chop like a master chef. I looked at him with some confusion, and he shared that his family had loved to cook and he’d always been the sous chef in the kitchen – but no one had ever trusted him to be the chef – since he was the youngest (something we both shared and intrinsically understood.)
That afternoon was full of laughter and teasing as I went from teacher to student. Chris was often surprising in that way – at once humble, even diffident, and at the same time extremely intelligent, witty and competent.
Some of the most special moments with Chris were over the last two years, as he decided to launch - Yes WE Catan – a group that started with just a few friends playing the game and grew to a 100+ person league that spanned both coasts.
I remember the first league playoff game that he hosted with over 50 people and 7 groups playing the game scattered throughout his home. Before the games started, Chris addressed the group welcoming everyone and sharing his vision and hope for the night and the league overall.
Public speaking was not Chris’s favorite activity, and as he began to talk I could sense his nervousness as he looked out at the faces of friends from many different walks of his life and a few strangers that they had brought along for the evening. And yet he stepped into the crowd and began to share, first tentatively and then with more ease, how his vision for the league combined many things that were deeply important to him. A quiet warmth enveloped the room as he recalled the importance of game playing in his childhood - that it had been at the center of family activities and a way to connect and bond with his siblings and parents. And that by creating a league that raised money to be directed to the winner’s non-profit of choice, it gave people a chance to share how and why they participated in philanthropy – what kinds of social impact were important to them and how they made decisions about where to direct their giving.
That night, Chris took the risk of sharing what was most important to him, and as he opened it up to the group, others followed suit describing the non-profit they were “playing” for that night and why it mattered to them. It was a precious moment, and I realize now that Chris was modeling for all of us what it looks like to bring your full self to something – to share it with a generosity of spirit and invite others to make it their own. And he did this at a time he was dealing with significant personal adversity. I experienced an aliveness, a courage and an integrity that inspired and moved me. I had come that night to his house to have a fun evening and support Chris in something I knew mattered to him, and I left feeling like I’d been given a gift.
And today, I’m finding it very difficult to believe or accept that Chris isn’t just on leave - soon to be back in the hallways of New Profit. I miss him deeply. And I hope and aspire to be able to bring as much courage and authenticity to my life as Chris did to his.
Diana M. Smith, Former Partner, New Profit; Founder, The Actionsmith Network
It sure is ironic that a man so devoted to the Settlers of Catan never ever himself settled. Not when it came to his life’s work, or to his friends, or to his family, or to his cancer, or to himself—especially himself. Chris always aimed high. He was a seeker, not a settler.
I first met Chris when he was interviewing for a job at New Profit, where he eventually became an associate partner, advising some of the most talented and powerful social innovators on the planet.
He came to my home one afternoon for that interview, and we ended up spending over three hours in my backyard, talking about his dreams, his interests, his passions, his hopes. He told me about his folks, his brother Patrick, and his sister Abby, and how much they meant to him since his Mom had died at a relatively young age.
By the time we ended, the sun was setting and I was thinking, “This guy doesn’t have an inauthentic bone in his body. He’s the real deal.” That first impression has never changed.
I first discovered just how authentic Chris could be after we tussled over an issue I can’t now recall. It was what would become our classic tussle: My settling for something that would move the ball forward, Chris seeking a better solution, the right solution. We debated back and forth, with me bringing to bear all the weight of my seniority and experience, and eventually arriving at some solution, which I also can’t recall.
But what I can recall—vividly—like one of those light bulb memories reserved for events that stand out from all others—is what happened next.
I was in my car in the old Monitor building garage, about to leave for the day, when my cell rang. It was Chris—which surprised me since I’d just left him moments earlier.
“I know you didn’t intend it,” he said. “But you made it awfully hard to challenge you just now—which I found really tough.”
After I apologized, Chris asked what was going on with me, empathized with the pressures I was under, and then reflected on his own role in our exchange.
As I drove home later, I thought: “Wow, this guy’s really something. Not many people confront people in authority. Far fewer do it with Chris’s compassion or self-scrutiny.” I knew this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Lisa Taylor, Director, Talent and Organizational Development
Chris was a part of the New Profit family, and a particularly adored member. Between his paradoxically caring yet prodding wit, his palpable soul that was both guarded and genuinely shared, and his incredibly thoughtful and strategic brain, he was someone we all felt proud to have on the team and lucky to have in our inner circles. Even though we all rationally knew he was sick and may not live, it felt - and still feels - impossible that he's gone. I will always miss him. And his quiet way of leading and loving is a way of living I'm glad I felt and hope to emulate.