Monday, August 2, 2021

A Tribute to my Friend - In Memory of Rand Scholet (1957-2021)

     It is a rare thing in life to know someone for only seven weeks, and then be able to honestly say that they changed your life for the better.  But Rand Scholet was just such a person, and my only regret now is that I didn't know him sooner.  Many tributes have been written to him over the last few days, most by people who knew him far longer and better than I did. Truthfully, I feel a little presumptuous writing about him at all, but I want my readers to know who this remarkable man was, and how much he meant to me.

    Last spring, when I finally got word that my novel PRESIDENT HAMILTON was going to be published, I began joining various Hamilton pages on social media in order to do some advance publicity for my book.  One of the sites I joined was Eliza Matic's "Alexander Hamilton: Life and Legacy" Facebook page, and Eliza quickly became a good friend and strong supporter.  She was the one who pointed me to Mary-Anne Hamilton, the widow of Alexander's great-great-grandson, whom I also befriended.  I asked Mary-Anne if she would like to read an early draft of the novel, and she agreed.  When she wrote me back, she said: "Rand Scholet, the founder of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society calls me every day and I told him how much I am enjoying your book.  I printed out my copy and will pass it to him when I finish, he lives close by me."  Of course I told her that would be fine, at that point I wanted my story to be seen by as many Hamilton experts as possible, so I could get their feedback.

     It was only a few days later, on June 7, that I got my first email from Rand, with the subject line "Hamilton! 'Gonna be President!' " (a reference to one of the songs in the musical, where Jefferson gloatingly says "He's never gonna be President now!").  That was the beginning of a lively correspondence, and just a few days later I called Rand for the first time - and that was when our friendship began.  One thing about Rand - the minute he picked up the phone, he made you feel like talking to you was the most important and exciting event of his day.  He had this huge booming voice that was just brimming over with energy and enthusiasm, and his optimism was so infectious that I told my wife talking to him was like getting a shot of pure adrenalin!

     As a writer, I can say that one of the rarest things in the world is to meet someone who is more enthusiastic about your book than you are.  But Rand was just such a person.  He loved PRESIDENT HAMILTON.  He wanted it to be sold at every National Park Service gift shop at every site connected with Hamilton; he wanted his fellow Hamiltonians to read it and endorse it, he wanted to get a copy in the hands of Lin-Manuel Miranda so he could endorse it (we did succeed at getting the book to Lin before Rand died), and he wanted it to be made into an epic mini-series.  Every time I called him (and in the last couple of weeks before he passed, that was nearly every day), he had new ideas about how we could promote the book.

     Early on, he was concerned about a couple of historical inaccuracies in the draft I sent him, and was deeply relieved when I told him that they had been corrected in the galley proofs of the book.  Later, after he got his personal copies of PRESIDENT HAMILTON in hand, he told me he was going through the book with a fine-toothed comb to catch any other small errors so they could be corrected in later printings - he thought that those corrections would help get some of the more serious-minded Hamiltonians on board with promoting it.  (In our last conversation, he told me he had that list ready, and if I can get it I am going to do my best to make sure those corrections are made, to honor his wishes).  He was constantly coming up with new contacts he thought I should make, and I reached out to every single person he recommended.   Thanks to him, I was able to connect with prominent Hamiltonians like Nancy Spannaus, Marianne Als, and Gary Wilser, as well as Sergio Villavecencio, the Vice President of the AHA society (and Rand's son-in-law).

    Rand went on a lovely vacation with his family to the Outer Banks a couple of weeks ago, and we called each other several times during that trip - he was excited about my first speaking event after the release of PRESIDENT HAMILTON, and overjoyed at my successful book launch party on the 24th of July.  Last Tuesday night, he called me from Disney World, where he and his family stopped on their way home from North Carolina.  I was unable to take that call because I was at a dinner with one of our friends, but I called him back the next morning.  He said he was catching up on all the chores that had built up while he was gone, but told me he was looking forward to dedicating the month of August to helping me promote my book.  We talked for about 20 minutes, and later that day he texted me, giving me the name of a Hamilton re-enactor from Colorado he thought I should connect with.  I wrote him back that evening, saying I had sent the man a friend request, and he texted me back one word: "Nice!"  That was the last I ever heard from him.

     Thursday afternoon I was out on the lake with my son-in-law when my phone rang, and when I picked it up Eliza Matic tearfully told me that Rand had suffered an apparent heart attack and passed away that morning.  To say I was stunned would be an understatement.  Rand was gone?  That booming voice on the other end of the line, who always greeted me with such enthusiasm? That unquenchable volcano of energy and optimism, silenced?  But it was true.  My friend had left this world for a higher plane, and I can only hope that his beloved Alexander Hamilton was waiting to greet him on the other side.

     I'm not sure how to go on now, honestly, since my friend and tireless promoter has left us.  I don't have Rand's endless list of contacts, I'm not plugged into the world of Hamilton scholars and enthusiasts as he was.   But I do know one thing: I am going to press on!  I always wanted my novel to succeed, mostly for the same reasons that all authors do - I mean, obviously, there is a financial motive, and more than that, I want people to read my story and be entertained and educated and inspired by it.  But now I have a new reason that I want PRESIDENT HAMILTON to reach the widest possible audience: because Rand wanted it to.  This man, with so many other commitments and so much more knowledge than I had about all things Hamilton-related, found my work worthy of his time and his commitment.  And now I feel as if I owe it to Rand to make sure his dreams for my book come true.  I will miss him, to be sure, but I also want to honor his legacy by making PRESIDENT HAMILTON a part of it.

     Thank you, Rand Scholet, for inspiring me.  You made me believe in myself as a writer like no one else ever has.  I'm sorry our friendship was so short-lived, but I am still very glad it happened.  As was said of Hamilton, so I can say of you:

"You could have done so much more if you'd only had time."