Edelweiss is a white flower known to grow high in the Alps. According to lore, it also came to be known as a symbol of courage, bravery and love: if your partner were to bring you an Edelweiss flower, it would mean they have daringly climbed up to a very high altitude to get it for you.
Many of us think of Edelweiss as synonymous with The Sound of Music, sung as a sentimental memory by a Salzburg military hero in remembrance of his beloved Austrian homeland pre-World War II (see lyrics below).
This week, Edelweiss symbolizes for me the love, memory, and heartache resulting from the unexpected passing of my beloved Dutch cousin, Philip Jan (PJ) Hartog.
My cousin, Phillip Jan, was instrumental to my six months as an ex-pat living in Holland…and to many moments of my life in general.
Philip Jan (aka: PJ or “Flip”) always impressed me by his resilience: his father had died during Philip’s youth, at the age of 61. PJ nonetheless persevered through university and an MBA with a wildly jovial spirit and abundance of joy. My first meaningful memories of Flip began when he was working for Caterpillar in Peoria, Illinois, during my elementary school years; he came to see my mom, younger brother Jeff, and me on the weekends in Winnetka. I have even more fond memories skiing with him at various locations.
PJ moved me into my study-abroad apartment in Leiden, The Netherlands; he helped me obtain my first cell phone in 1999. During my 6 months abroad, PJ welcomed me on the weekends in his Amsterdam abode, introducing me to Amsterdam via the canals on his boat.
He showed up as THE surprise guest at my Yale graduation; he supported me unequivocally from my college years through my first dot.com in Silicon Valley. Philip Jan was a doting Uncle, never forgetting a birthday, always sending a timely text, email, or WhatsApp.
A uniquely talented and risk-taking businessman, PJ was a professional angel investor in the Netherlands in a time and place when that was not in the modern day vernacular. He made bets large and small, in biotech most notably, across both sides of the Atlantic. He was a visionary, a contrarian, and an adventurer. He hosted major birthday milestones in the Dutch countryside and sailed and raced classic cars for pleasure. He was a true Renaissance man, a fluid world traveler, larger than life character. Philip didn’t have one Bernese mountain dog at once, he had four. Philip role modeled measured risk-taking, joie de vivre, and embodied a full life well lived as an engaged, global citizen.
Philip’s greatest loves, undoubtedly, were his children. Upon the arrival of his twin boys, I followed in my mother’s footsteps to fly across the sea to meet and spend time with them. Not long after, his beloved daughter arrived.
Hal and I ended up enjoying time with PJ and family in San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, Chicago and Europe. He was jovial, loving, kind, always someone who saw the world- and glass- as half-full.
A genetic cardiac condition ultimately caused his untimely death this week at 61, leaving his devoted children behind. In a world lacking so much sense today politically et al amidst the global pandemic, his unexpected passing feels equally senseless. Nonetheless, in reflecting upon his person and life, I am left with the nostalgia, love, and longing represented by Edelweiss, as well as the quote by Marcus Aurelius that “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”
Philip’s passing is a reminder to me to cherish each person you love and each day, today and always.