Ad Exec With Cancer, Given 'Two Weeks To Live,' Posts Self-Written Obit On The Day Of His Death

Mike hughes the martin agencyRic KallaherMike Hughes

Mike Hughes, the former president of The Martin Agency, died today after a long and public battle with cancer. He was 65.

Initially diagnosed with lung cancer in the 1990s, Hughes was given “two weeks to live” by his doctors last January.

Hughes declined to go quietly. Instead, he began a blog called “Unfinished Thinking” to chronicle his battle.

Read Mike Hughes’ life lessons >

Today, his last post was published. It begins:

After many unexplained delays, I have finally lived up to my prognosis and have at last departed this life. It’s been a life I’ve loved.

In the months leading up to this moment, I was astonished at the outpouring of love and caring and respect from hundreds of people. There were handwritten notes, emails, blog posts, comments, letters, magazine articles, personal visits and phone calls. The tsunami of glorious thoughts sent my way has made it increasingly hard to justify my deep insecurity about my place in the world — an insecurity I’ve clung to all my life.

I want to take this last opportunity to clear up one common misjudgment in the oft-repeated, highly exaggerated list of my virtues. Many of you have credited me with humility. That’s not even close to true.

You can read the rest of it here.

When we first learned that Hughes was blogging his fight with cancer back in May, we made this post from his blog of his regrets in the industry and some of the lessons he learned, and paired them with pictures of his journey as an agency and family man.

It's amazing how freeing being given a limited time frame can be. Everything on my 'things to do today lists' is vanquished forever. ... Thank God I never saddled myself with a bucket list. Those lists are guilt-magnets. And now, poof… Gone forever. Good riddance.

I'm supposed to die tomorrow. Hope not. Two weeks ago, the doctors gave me two weeks to live. I'm pretty sure they'll be proven wrong. In fact, I'm actually making plans now for next week. !!! A friend now in Ethiopia is planning to get here the end of next week. I told him to get here as soon as possible because I might have a funeral I have to attend at the end of the week. (Some people love that kind humour. Others, not so much.)

'How are you doing?' That's the first question many people ask when they see me. They tell me how good I look, and then they ask, 'How are you doing?' It's a nice question to ask, but it's a little tricky to answer. If I know someone has a great sense of humour, I might say, 'Well, I'm dying.' But usually what I say is that for the condition I'm in, I'm doing pretty well. I mean that both physically and psychologically.

Yesterday I opened my briefcase for the first time since December. I pulled out papers and notes that were reminders to me of projects I'll never get to now. I quickly tossed most of the papers into the recycling bin. I'm surprised how sad this little exercise made me. These projects had nagged at me when they were alive, but now I was sorry I was abandoning them. They still seemed worth doing.

I get a little uneasy thinking about legacies. George Washington had a legacy. Martin Luther King had a legacy. I'm just an advertising guy … When John and I inherited the company, one of our main and much-discussed goals was to one day leave the agency in better shape than it was then. We have succeeded. We also wanted to leave talented, inspiring leaders in charge. We're succeeding there, too -- in spades.

For long-term happiness, enable short-term successes. We work in advertising. We expect to see the fruits of our labour out in the real world within a few months, weeks or days of their creation. If we had patience, we'd be architects. No matter how successful he or she has been, every person with a long career in this business has gone through painful stretches of a year or more in which nothing was produced. ... Creative companies need the room to fail occasionally, but failure is exhausting and debilitating when it's not buffered by successes.

My friends know that I avoid parties whenever possible, but even I know victories should be celebrated.

Staff meetings should be entertaining.

We'll do better work and we'll do it more enthusiastically if we do it with friends.

It's the responsibility of every person at the agency to bring joy to work at least four days a week. (We all have bad days.)

By the way, make the fun visible to the people around you.

Friends tease each other in affectionate, public ways. That kind of banter can reduce tension for everyone.

One note: don't leave anyone out. The etiquette for teasing women is still a little different than for teasing men, but don't ignore the woman in the room just because she's not as ripe a target as, say, Earl Cox or me. There's a bias that accrues from making the men always the center of attention.

As you approach your final days, it's incumbent on you to review your regrets. I'm pretty sure that's one of the rules.

For example, I think I'm supposed to regret the many nights I missed family dinners or family weekends because I was working ...

I do have those regrets -- kind of -- especially since the last couple of months with Ginny, Jason's family and Patti have been such potent reminders of how meaningful those times can be.

I certainly hate remembering the times my long hours hovered menacingly over my marriage. For whatever reason, I could never figure out how to do my job in less than 55 to 65 hours a week, sometimes more. Often more.

Of course, that claim was always suspect because everyone knew how much I loved my work. He's not there because he has to be. He's there because he wants to be. (Can't they both be true?)

We're told nobody on a deathbed ever said, 'I wish I'd spent more time at the office.' Maybe, but I confess that I wish I'd somehow magically had more time to spend at the office -- time that wouldn't subtract from my other times. A 30-hour day would have been perfect.

For the last decade, I've gone to lunch not with my work, but with my newspapers and magazines.

Regrets? Well, as the song says, 'A few. But then again, too few to mention.'

Now say goodbye to the year ...

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