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The Last Word

Saying Goodbye to a Game Changer

It’s hard to fathom why Jonathan Flickinger, who was committed to his profession, community and family, was tragically taken at just 34 years old.

Game Changer Jonathan Flickinger

Son Isaiah, daughter Lydia and wife Jenna with Jonathan Flickinger, who died Dec. 28 in a car accident.

Our Workforce Game Changers are special people. They are the young shakers and movers who will be shaping people management for decades to come.

One Game Changer in particular really captured our attention in 2016. We saw Jonathan Flickinger as a unique talent — a background in law and an advanced certificate in strategic HR management from Cornell University just for starters. He was someone who “didn’t just get his foot in the door to begin his HR career — he kicked his way through it,” as writer AnnMarie Kuzel summarized in his Game Changer profile. It’s not surprising that Jonathan was tagged with the moniker “mixed-martial HR generalist.”

During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, I noticed an unusually large spike in page views for Jonathan’s 2016 Game Changer profile. Considering that web traffic is terribly slow at that time of year, out of curiosity I Googled his name.

My search revealed the stunning news that Jonathan died in a three-car accident while on his way to work on Dec. 28. Tragically, the story continued, Jonathan left behind his wife Jenna, a 3-year-old daughter and an 8-week-old son.

Just a month earlier, Jonathan started a new job as chief human capital officer for Quality Life Services, a home health care company in Butler, Pennsylvania, not far from his home in the Pittsburgh suburb of Bridgeville.

It was a well-earned position for him, especially after he endured much adversity in the 18 months since his recognition as a Game Changer. Jonathan was a lifelong resident of western Pennsylvania’s coal country. Working in that dying industry had its risks, which unfortunately struck when Jonathan was laid off after his selection to our Game Changers Class of 2016.

Workforce never had an unemployed Game Changer in the program’s history. Admittedly, his new work status gave us pause … for about five seconds.

Jonathan was a special talent, and despite the hard luck he remained a solid choice as a Game Changer. His versatility and command of his profession was further evidenced in an opinion piece he authored for Workforce on President Trump’s declaration to restore jobs to the ailing coal industry.

Following his selection as a Game Changer, former Workforce Managing Editor James Tehrani called Jonathan to hear firsthand what happened with his job situation.

Like a true HR pro, Jonathan did not fault his former employer. There was no bad blood, no sour grapes, no “woe is me” at being dealt a rotten hand, despite any worries he might have had about having to provide for a young family.

And while his former employer declined to comment, they said it was because of company policy and not because of our questions about Jonathan.

And now we learn of a much bigger misfortune — a car crash from which there can be no recovery. It’s hard to fathom why someone as talented and committed to his profession, community and family was tragically taken at just 34 years old. While we at Workforce and others who Jonathan touched through his work try to rationalize his death, the hard reality is that there remains a family coping with the loss every day.

I recently talked to Jonathan’s older brother, Christopher. “We’re all functioning,” he said of the family. As most big brothers would do, he proudly talked up his little brother’s achievements. He also recalled a conversation over the holidays. A growing family and finally a new gig in the profession he loved, Jonathan radiated with an air of satisfaction, Christopher said.

“He said, ‘I finally got everything I wanted.’ ”

Sadly, that world was shattered three days after Christmas. And while the family still grieves, Jonathan’s wife and children are struggling to get by. Christopher asked me to pass along that a GoFundMe page has been set up for them (search jonathan-flickinger-memorial).

Like many young families, Jonathan had no life insurance. His young family also has no health insurance benefits because he had taken the CHRO position just a month prior and insurance hadn’t kicked in yet.

“Perhaps your story would move others to donate, which would truly help Jenna, Lydia and Isaiah,” Christopher added.

In short, it’s an HR leader’s nightmare scenario. But if I have learned one thing about HR people, it’s that they live to turn adverse situations into something positive. Jonathan Flickinger was a positive force, a bright, shining beacon of HR’s future whose life and influence on the workplace ended too soon.

Jonathan always wanted to make a difference, his brother said.

Now it’s our turn to rally, to support the recovery of one young family from the HR community. To be game changers. Just like Jonathan.

Rick Bell is Workforce’s Editorial Director. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.