I want to tell you a story about my dear friend Erin Valenti, who sadly passed away recently. As her friend for nearly 15 years and through many seasons of our lives, I hope that this serves as a small remembrance of a woman I will always know as the baddest bitch around.
While many pieces have be written about Erin, they’re all abstractions, written by people who don’t know her, pushing entertainment masquerading as coverage of an event. She deserves more. As her friend, I want to put something positive forward for her.
A Few Layers More
Erin worked in private equity, product management, venture capital, and technology. She was a rock climber, cannoneer, skier, and backpacker. Erin built big great things, employed hundreds of people, and was a boss in the truest sense. That’s what most people know. But she was far more complex than titles and activities.
Erin was generous, loving, giving, compassionate, tough, an incredible partner, and a lovely beast of a friend. I know that Erin had my back no matter what and she was one of the few people I knew that had unquestionable integrity, a sense of profound desire for justice and equality, and was an actual modern-day pioneer.
How I Came To Really Know Her
I met Erin in the winter of 2006 in Beijing, China. For both of us, that time was important in our lives because it confirmed that we could go anywhere, do anything, and choose to live our lives the way we wanted.
Over the course of our semester together, I got to know Erin over a great number of beautiful experiences throughout China, evenings eating street food at night markets, and mornings in class learning about Chinese history, politics, culture, and international business. It is important to know that she was passionate about people, about the world around her, and about things unseen.
Late in that semester, my grandmother passed away suddenly, which for me was particularly devastating being so far from home. And even though we were new friends, Erin had my back.
With the help of two others, she took me to the China Airlines customer center in downtown Beijing where she waited with me for six hours, holding my hand like a real friend, while also yelling at ticket agents until she helped get me on a flight home. This was the first time that I saw two qualities in her were the basis for how she lived her life. First, Erin was a person for others. Second, nothing would stop her from helping her friends.
Years later, when Erin was working in private equity and I was working in government, I got an email from her totally out of the blue.
Hey dude. It’s Erin. You should call me because I have this amazing question that I need to ask you and you’re going to like it.
That note restarted my relationship with someone who has become one of the most important friends in my life. We picked up right where we left off. And as usual, Erin was right — it was amazing.
I could go on and on about storied and anecdotes about Erin. But that would be an accounting about my friendship with her, which doesn’t honor who she is. Instead, it is more befitting of my dear friend to talk about her as a woman, a friend, a wife, and a leader.
One Tough Chick
Erin was authentically herself. But life for her was not always easy. She was a short and loud chick from upstate New York who worked in fields made up mostly of men. Her boldness to be herself cut both ways: you loved her or hated her. I know that sometimes she struggled with her body image and that she knew she cared too much about what other people thought of her. Other times, Erin ran completely out of fucks and would drop bombs like it was Operation Rolling Thunder.
I found her to be a fully genuine person with strength and vulnerability, a desire to push and an ability to hold fast. At no point ever would you wonder where you stood with Erin. She had a mouth like a sailor and an ability to tough it out like an athlete. I loved all of this about Erin. At no point was she interested in pleasing you — she was bigger than reducing herself to that.
A Person For Others
One of the best things about Erin was her love for other people. Both she and her husband Harrison took people into their home in Salt Lake City, fed their friends, checked up on people, and tried to build a community of loved ones to share their lives with.
If you needed a bed, Erin had one for you. Need a meal, she’s got you. Needed some advice, its Erin on the phone. Have to get a new marketing lead or backend engineer, she’s got a list. Have a need for some cash, that can be discussed (she’s got terms).
Those are not things that most people do. They certainly are not things other executives commonly do. But that’s because Erin wasn’t precious about what she had. She wanted to share it with you. And if she thought you were worthy, she wanted to invest herself in you.
A Damn Fine American
Erin was a complex woman, which is one of the things that I loved the most about her.
Thoughtful and philosophical, Erin was a risk taker, a lover of nature, and a truly non-partisan person. Erin did not care about your affiliations and how you identified in politics, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. She was truly agnostic because she judged you as a person — for your works — rather than for some ephemeral marker. But there were rules with Erin, and she cared very much about them.
Loyalty was key for Erin. She cared so much about loyalty to your partners, friends, loved ones, and to our country. She hated people who had the cheapness of character as to not have integrity in their word. And good luck if you if you were disloyal, dishonest, or disrespectful of the inherent value of people.
Nature was her love and exploration her passion. From morning walks in the park to days on end exploring the great American west; Erin was always outside — even when she was on the phone. She was a conservationist, a climber, cannoneer, skier, and hiker. I often thought of her as the Teddy Roosevelt of my friends. In my head, she’d happily wrestle a bear on her way up a mountain just so she could get cellphone service to close a deal.
A Fierce Friend
Over the past seven years, Erin and I got really close. We probably spoke on the phone two times a week for an hour or so at a time. We shared life together over the phone, on the side of a mountain, over a beer, and with joy and with tears.
Erin saw me though a dark time in my life. I had been screwed out of a company I cofounded, lost a woman that I had loved, and found myself adrift in my own life. She was there for me when others weren’t. She gave me the best advice of all my friends and family, and I loved her dearly for knowing me.
One of the things that I loved most about Erin is her husband Harrison. Together, they built a wonderful life and surrounded themselves with true friends, real joy, and a love that saw many seasons. She found her partner at a young age and loved him deeply until the day she left us. He is the very essence of her in his own way and watching their love and their friendship has, at times, helped remind me of joy in my own life.
Most of all, Erin was not a passive friend. She had no problem telling me what the fuck was wrong with me, what to do, and when to do it.
A little over a year ago, I introduced her to another powerful woman in my life, who at the time was my friend and colleague Amber. The two of them became fast friends. And while Amber and I had a falling out after I introduce them, this did not stop Erin from telling me that I was being an idiot. A few months back, Erin called me while taking a walk in the mountains outside of Salt Lake. The conversation went like this:
Alex: Hey, girl. What’s up?
Erin: I’ve been thinking about you.
Alex: Oh no.
Erin: Shut up and listen to me.
Erin: You do understand that you and Amber belong together, right? Is that not clear to you? Are you so stupid that you can’t see a good thing when it’s staring right at you? Just apologies and get the fuck on with your life together — it’s making me sad to think that two brilliant and loving people are too stupid to not be together. It’ll just be a funny story that I tell at your wedding you jackass. Fix this, Alex.
[Hangs up the phone…drops mic]
She was right. And if I’m lucky, I’ll spend every day for the rest of my life thanking her for being such a fierce friend.
I think that anyone who knew Erin was better for it — even if they were on the other side of the table. She was an amazing teacher and friend. She was also a deep thinker and clung to her values, one of which is her sense of industry. Sadly, I really feel like Erin forgot one thing that we must all remember:
You cannot take it with you.
Erin worked so hard for so long. I always knew her to be sending emails, making calls, thinking about work, strategizing/scheming, and negotiating. I loved that about her but I also know that there was another side of her who just wanted to move past it all and live. The thing that I am saddest about is that she did not have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of her labor. Even in the end, she died on a work trip.
Since I found out that she passed away, I have not been able to stop thinking about a conversation that she and I had not four months ago. She had come to understand that there was all this goodness about her and that she didn’t need to prove it anymore. She knew that none of us will ever make it out alive — that we must live while we can. But sadly, that’s a truth that came too late.
Looking back over her life, our friendship, and what she has done for me and my future, I’ll close by saying this:
If I am ever lucky enough to have a daughter, I want her to have the essence of Erin Valenti who I will always know as the most loving, honest, passionate bad bitch around. Peace be with you, Erin, no matter where you are. I’ll see you again. I know it.
Your friend forever,