Friday, December 3, 2010

Rusty Sneiderman - one in a million!

As a speaker, the one comment I never wanted to hear was "You seemed a bit rusty." I heard it a few times during my Toastmasters speeches. They critiqued my grammar and I was fine. They commented on how many times I said "um..." and I could deal with that. They even said they didn't understand the point of my speech and I could handle that, but if I heard, "You seemed a bit rusty," I got really frustrated. To me it meant that people didn't think I wasn't working at my craft and I knew I worked hard when it came to my passion for public speaking.

Lately, my passion for motivational speaking has diminished due to my battle with clinical depression. Through the years, there have been two people who really pushed me to make my speaking more of a priority. One was my father, the other was Russell J. Sneiderman. I, like pretty much all of his friends, called him Rusty.

Andrea and I met Rusty, his wife Andrea and their kids Sophia and Ian at a friend's party. Soon afterward, we went to Gwinnett Braves games together, went to their lake house on several occasions and took in some Atlanta Braves games together. As our couple friendship developed, the Andreas (Rusty and I had to use the terms "My Andrea" or "Your Andrea" to avoid confusion) became even closer as did Rusty and myself.

Rusty and I talked pretty regularly. Sometimes we talked while our wives were with the kids. Rusty once told me that it was nice to be friends with a couple both he and his wife liked individually. Often we had lunch together because we both worked in Duluth. Each time a lunch with Rusty concluded, he'd ask me, "Now how can I help you to be more of a success." I remember the first time he came to dinner and he said he wanted to repay us for making the meal. So what did he do? He went outside and fixed our gutter. That's when I knew I found a one-in-a-million type friend. I also realized if we wanted the pilot light fixed and the leaks in our sky lights sealed up, we better keep providing food for Rusty.

Rusty was a big fan of mine for some reason. He told me that I inspired him and he told my parents that he loved me and would do whatever I wanted to help make Wish for Wendy a success. Those weren't just words. Rusty was a doer. He believed in me and in turn I believed in him. Rusty was always hungry for success. He wanted to make a difference.

Rusty played on the only two foundation teams we've ever had at Wish for Wendy and agreed to take on the heavy responsibility of being our sponsorship chairman this year. He came up with some great ideas and helped us find several new corporate sponsors. He's a big reason why we eclipsed the million dollar mark this year.

Rusty had an amazing personality and sense of humor. He was known for making fun of his athletic activity though he was no slouch as he proved on the softball field. He once bought a Wii FIT and said after he took the fitness test that the Wii told him that his fitness was equal to that of a grossly obese 75 year old. Rusty laughed, "I paid money for a machine to tell me I'm old and fat. No thank you!"

The Wish for Wendy Warriors foundation team in 2010 had a lot of new names but one name stayed the same and that was Rusty Sneiderman. Rusty played softball once a year and this was it. Rusty was always introducing me to people he thought could help further my career and/or my foundation. He got along with every person I introduced him to. My parents really loved him. He and my dad had the same bug about starting a business on their own. They talked frequently. Rusty was looking forward to starting his own business.

Rusty Sneiderman was a brilliant guy. He graduated from Indiana University and later got his MBA from Harvard. He and his wife Andrea, who also graduated from Indiana and got her masters at Harvard, moved down to Atlanta where Rusty worked for JP Morgan.

I'd only known Rusty for two years and I considered him one of my best friends. We talked about growing old and all of the trips we were going to take together. We each had two children, a girl first and then a boy. The kids were almost the same age. We talked about his next business venture and how he was really excited to get started. No matter how much a lunch was full of talking about his business, it always ended with, "Now how I can I help you to be successful."

Rusty wanted to create a plan to help me. The man was starting up a business, was married, was raising two children and had many charitable obligations, yet he always wanted to help me. I wish I'd taken him up on least in the professional sense.

The Thursday prior to Thanksgiving, I was working on a very important chapter for my book, coincidentally another project of mine Rusty frequently asked about. I got a call from my Andrea. She was crying. My first thought was something happened to one of the kids.

"Rusty's been shot," she said. "WHATTTTTT?" I said. "Where, when, how..." Rusty was one of the least violent people I knew; surely this was a mistake. Apparently, a half hour earlier Russell J. Sneiderman walked out of Dunwoody Prep, a preschool in a safe area of Atlanta, after dropping off his son and was shot several times at close range. An hour or so later as I pulled into the hospital's parking lot, I got a called from Andrea. I can only remember the two words that had difficulty leaving her mouth, "He died."

"NO!" I said. No way. Our families were going bowling the following night. Rusty and I had plans for lunch the following week. This couldn't be happening. He and I just talked the other day. I still have a text from him congratulating me on Wish for Wendy which was only about a week and a half earlier. My mom, dad, Andrea and I were at the hospital. Andrea was a real rock for Rusty's Andrea. Many of his Andrea's friends came to support their friend. The prevailing question was "Why? Why would someone do this to such an amazing man?" I can't answer that question. That's the job of the police. I can only say what an honor it was to know Rusty Sneiderman. He wasn't just a friend. He was a best friend. He wasn't just a guy who gave to charity; he contributed to causes to help them to become successful. I'm richer for having known Rusty.

I did a couple of news interviews on Friday with permission from his family. Rusty made everyone around him smile and laugh. He made you feel like you were the center of attention. He made me feel comfortable no matter what the situation. The world is far worse off without Rusty in it.

Rusty always told me that I inspired him. I wish I'd had time to tell him what an amazing friend he was to me. "Rusty, I loved you like a brother. I miss you so much. I will do things in your memory because you believed in me."

It's been a few weeks since Rusty's death and I still can't get him out of my mind. I see his smiling face. I've found videos of him on my phone. I miss his laugh. I miss his humor. I miss him.

On the Sunday following his death I gave the biggest speech in my life. Rusty would have wanted me to do that. The speech was his eulogy. I had to say goodbye to a man that should still be here. I had to say goodbye to a man who will miss out on so many amazing things because of one senseless act. I had to say goodbye to a man who I planned to spend so much time with over the next few decades.

Please pray for Rusty's family and everyone who knew him...we lost an amazing man, father, son, brother, husband and a friend. Rusty, you always had dreams of being a big success and making a difference. Little did you know that you accomplished both missions. You made everyone around you better. That's the greatest success one man can have. I'll miss you, my brother. It was an honor to be friends with you. You were a gift to this world and that gift will never be forgotten. I will honor you, as will many others, till the day we die.

And the next time I give a speech and I get that comment that would once infuriate me, my reaction might be a little different. I can just hear it now.

"Andy, you seemed a bit Rusty."

God, I hope so...I really hope so.

Missing Rusty every moment of everyday,

p.s. I have posted a sketch of Rusty's killer. Please send this to everyone you know. Justice will prevail! Below is a picture of Rusty with my son Ethan. It's not coincidence that my son looks comfortable with him; everyone did.


  1. Andy, that you and Rusty were close and caring friends seems natural to me. I know your are amazing. And through you, I have learned how amazing Rusty was. Two amazing guys: close and caring for one another. Rusty's legacy lives on and I pull for easier and happier days ahead for you. Scot

  2. Andy, your story about Rusty is touching. We went to the same synagogue.

  3. Andy- I was just doing my weekly search for updates on Rusty's case and came across your blog. Thank you for what you wrote. Thank you for the friendship you had with Rusty. I have know him since I was probably 5 or 6 and he never really changed, just got better! I am glad you got to have those 2 years as his friend.