Richard Niles (1953-2013)

Typically, this column is written in the third person, so we might both honor the passing of an individual and note how that person’s life offered us the gift of touching on larger issues of which we should always be mindful. This particular column, however, will be written in the first person, as I know the subject. Or I should say, I did not know him well enough.

Richard Niles was the Senior Tax Editor for National Underwriter Publishing, a sister division to National Underwriter Life & Health, and was a well-regarded expert on tax matters. He maintained an impressive contact book of the top minds in the world of tax law from whom he solicited submitted articles to the publications he edited, such as the various print and online versions of Tax Facts. He had been involved in legal, financial and tax publishing for some 35 years, working with Prentice-Hall, the American Institute of CPAs, Aspen Publishers and LexisNexis. But it had been a goal of his to work for National Underwriter, and so he did in 2010, quickly establishing himself as the go-to experts on all things tax-related, specializing as someone who could understand tax issues holistically and then distill them into something more easily understood.

When Richard died suddenly of a massive heart attack on Sunday, February 10, it left many of those same contacts in a state of shock. His colleagues here in the office were especially hard hit. They uniformly described him as a quiet, friendly fellow who showed up for work early, enjoyed working with others, and who never seemed to have a bad thing to say about anybody. He was an editor who worked with outside submissions from authors he did not see face to face; he could have said anything about the work he edited, as editors so often do. But not Richard. In the world of publishing, that is the mark of a kind heart indeed, and of one dedicated to bringing out the best in others.

Richard was not just an expert on taxes. He loved taxes. (Not paying them, one imagines, but then again, who is?) No, he appreciated the mental challenge they posed, the intricacies of their mind-boggling details. He scoured for news on updated tax regulations in his never-ending quest to ensure that the various Tax Facts products remained current. And when he would attend professional conferences and meet his fellow tax specialists, he would openly enthuse about his craft, becoming open, engaging and animated. There are those who might scoff at the idea of enjoying something as mundane as taxation. But who is to say which subjects are worth developing a passion for and which subjects are not? The world is already filled with those who simply fall into their professions and develop a listless competency for their task, performing it with no genuine spirit. That Richard had such love for his work speaks well not just of himself and of the product he worked on, but of a kind of spirit that, frankly, every workplace in the country could use much more of.

With the loss of Richard, I find myself realizing that I hardly knew him. And from every account I gathered from his colleagues, Richard was a guy very much worth knowing. I should have known Richard better. I owed him that; he worked right down the hall from me and until this week, I was not even entirely sure if I was connecting the right name to the face when he came up. I’d bump into him in the hall and exchange pleasantries, but more often, we’d just smile, say nothing and go on about our business. To know him better is an opportunity I let slip by. There is no excuse for that. I will make a renewed effort to get to know those with whom I work and share so many of my waking hours.

In the meantime, I hope that you too will take a moment to reach out to a colleague you don’t really know. Actually walk over to their office, introduce yourself, buy that person a coffee or a soda and share a story. After all, we all have common ground that unites us. We all have a duty to ourselves — and to those around us — to do a better job of discovering what that common ground is. For that is how we come together. That is how we grow stronger. And that is how none of us are taken for granted. Stay close, everyone. Be well.