My dear friend’s life was cut short. How he lived his life, teaches me how to live mine best.
If you were on campus in the early ’80s, you probably remember my Genesee Hall roommate — the guy with the long hair and the derby hat.
What you may not know is that Mike Annis ’84 died much too young at 54, taking his last breath in October 2016 in his Nashville home when his body finally said enough to a 33-year battle with Crohn’s, liver cancer twice, two broken legs, and a shattered eardrum — the latter injuries the result of standing 20 feet behind the first pressure-cooker bomb at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Mike lived a life of sustainability and resiliency with a strong belief that positivity was a choice, regardless of our circumstances. Mike always talked about “good karma,” even when his, in the end, was so unfair.
Mike made an impression on his classmates, teachers and dormmates, finding his muse zinging the lacrosse ball in the quad between Genesee Hall and Letchworth Dining Hall. An excellent drummer, Mike was just as comfortable playing his rototoms in the B2 lounge as he was mingling in GJ’s, Uncle Waldos, Fat Augie’s, the Idle Hour or the Inn Between.
I met Mike in spring semester 1981, and we quickly bonded with a shared love of music. We roomed in B2D1, hosting after-hour parties and talking about Deep Purple, Rush and the Beatles into the early morning hours.
We shared a passion for communications theory, leveraging the insight and guidance of memorable Geneseo professors like Charles “Doc” Goetzinger and Joseph Bulsys. Goetzinger especially made an impression on Mike and, as we became adults and kept closely in touch over the next four decades living in and around Boston, would quote the professor whenever we discussed corporate communication challenges in our own careers.
Mike and I carried on our music tradition, meeting annually to make mix cassettes, CDs and, eventually, MP3s. We never missed a year from 1985 through 2016, and would spend hours talking about our lives — his passion for Formula 1 auto racing, his job at Rounder Records, the Red Sox, my
journalism and marketing career path, our families.
When I escaped from the World Trade Center on 9/11, Mike was there to listen and help me put life into perspective. Then I got the chance to return the favor, spending hours with him in recovery after physicians removed more than 200 BBs, pellets and nails from his legs, preparing him for four skin grafts.
What were the chances that Geneseo roommates would survive two of the biggest terrorist attacks in U.S. history?
Mike would just say it was “our karma,” and that we simply move on.
Through it all, Mike never complained. And he shunned attention. When ABC News wanted to feature him in a televised segment on the bombing survivors, he said
When his Rolling Stone magazine arrived with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover, Mike read the article to get inside the terrorist’s head. Mike was not angry. He wanted to understand.
That was Mike. He recognized life was a journey, not a destination, and it was
always our choice with how we handle our circumstances.
Ours was truly a dangling conversation, one in which Mike taught me about sustainability and resilience by the way he navigated his illnesses and his fateful day on Boylston Street. Through his experiences and positivity (he loved the Boston Strong slogan), Mike taught me invaluable life lessons that I carry with me each day — mindful leadership, the power of thanks, respect for all, the promise of a sunrise.
Mike didn’t choose the Crohn’s that inflicted his body in 1983, or the liver cancer in 2012 and 2015. He beat the first liver cancer, enduring a nine-hour surgery, but the second one was just too much.
Mike’s journey ended too early, but he realized his dreams in Music City, teaching all who had the pleasure of knowing him that positivity is a choice.