The entire UX community was shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden passing of Michael Rawlins, a devoted husband and father, tireless advocate for the UX field, past UXPA International Board member and one of the founders of the Connecticut chapter of UXPA.
We spoke with Eileen Redmond, one of Michael’s good friends, and the current president of UXPA Connecticut, about his impact and legacy.
Please introduce yourself and would you tell us how you first met Michael?
I first met Michael at Aetna, almost 25 years ago. I was a business analyst at the time. We worked in the same general area, and he sat near the printer. He always had his headphones on, so one day, I finally tapped on his desk to introduce myself by asking, “So, what are you listening to?” He handed me his classical music CD. I handed him back my Ronnie Jordan jazz guitar CD. We were fast friends!
A few years later, Mike was working on putting together the Connecticut chapter for UPA [The previous name of UXPA – ed.] Through our friendship, he invited me to the chapter events and strongly encouraged me to look into the field. He thought it would be a good fit for me. He was so right! This was an early example of his lifelong work in connecting people with a job or career he wisely discerned would be a good path for them.
That’s fantastic when someone is able to recognize your interest and connect you up with a group of like-minded people. What else can you tell s about Michael? How would he want us to remember him?
Michael cherished his family above all else. Rhonda, Melissa, and Dylan were his sun, moon, and stars. His life and endeavors were always centered around that universe.
As an academic, Michael was a true embodiment of lifelong learning. Hew as not only passionate about his alma mater, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, but also dedicated himself to mentoring students and advocating for continuous education. He worked closely with several different higher-ed institutions to deliver courses and training on human-centered design. His enthusiasm for staying abreast of new developments and engaging in various courses and training never waned.
Michael’s artistic talents were another significant aspect of his life. An accomplished calligrapher and photographer, he was continuously honing his skills. His recent venture into perfecting calligraphy and creating a unique typeface exemplifies his dedication to his craft. But more importantly, he viewed life through the eyes of an artist, appreciating and celebrating the beauty while still acknowledging the challenges we all share as we experience this world.
Lastly, Michael was a fervent advocate. He lived that advocacy through his volunteering in his community; leading the Glastonbury ABC House, the board of the CT Science Center, a trustee at his alma mater, and a number of different board or volunteering positions.
He firmly believed in the transformative power of UX and its ability to help people, a cause and a discipline he championed passionately. There are countless numbers of people whom he coached and mentored in the UX field, but it didn’t end there. He dedicated time to his alma mater and mentoring a number of their students of various disciplines. I recall his glowing pride as he shared pictures of recent graduates from Hobart of a few of his mentees. He was a coach, mentor, sounding board, and wise counselor and was genuinely happy when others succeeded.
He leaves an incredible legacy to the field of UX. On a more personal note, what are some of your favorite memories of Michael?
My favorite times were the real, authentic conversations that he always had with you. Any time you sat down, whether over coffee or at an event, he was really interested in how you were doing.
We had Saturday morning coffees just to catch up on each other’s lives, casually sharing our latest events. Those are what I’ll miss the most.
What’s the best advice Michael ever gave you?
His most impactful piece of advice – I was having a difficult time in life and stressing over so many challenges. Michael listened patiently, as he did, and finally said, “You know, E, you can only really have three priorities in life. Add more and you begin to compromise everything. So, what are your three things?”
He invited me to get crystal clear on what my top 3 things are. For Michael, if you knew him for a minute you knew his #1 priority was his family.
I go back to that conversation any time I start to feel overwhelmed. I make sure my actions, decisions, and movements align with my top three priorities. Everything after that can fall away. That was the most memorable and impactful piece of advice.
Michael taught me that it’s OK to say ‘no’ if a ‘yes’ would compromise any one of my top three things.
It is great advice: to focus on what truly matters. Eileen, thanks so much for speaking with me. We are all going to miss Michael.
Talking with so many people over the past few days as we process this news, I find that we all have such similar stories of our times with Michael, whether you just met or have known him for 30 years. This I feel is because of his authenticity. That has to be a great legacy; that so many people can say, “we knew you well,” because of his open and genuine heart.