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Mike O’Rear: A Tribute to a Good Friend

by Jay Gary, PhD, Jan. 16, 2012


Mike O’Rear, 1954-2012, Friend of Many

This past week Mike O’Rear, president of GMI, Global Mapping International, Colorado Springs, died suddenly of a heart attack. He was 57 years old. See company news release.

Mike was my friend for nearly three decades. Our wives first met over  Bible study. I met Mike in the mail room of U.S. Center for World Mission, during its founding days. He was from Montana. I was from Virginia. Our kids played together from the time they could crawl.

Mike had a passion to support decision-makers in world missions with appropriate technology. Within a few years, the founder of Global Mapping International gave him the reins for the work, given his leadership acumen. The early GMI offices were a skunks work, littered with Cal Tech graduates and computer cables. They worked magic when it came to mapping, or going from computer screen to printing press negatives in late-’80s (not a routine feat before the hey day of desktop publishing). I witnessed the latter during a marathon production of Target Earth, a graphic book of articles and maps produced for a global congress. They attracted the best and the brightest, all under Mike’s strength as a friend.

In 1991 the O’Rears and GMI relocated to Colorado Springs. I know, as my wife and I helped them pack! We remember them driving off, as we stayed behind to sweep their rented house. As providence would have it, we moved to Colorado Springs 18-months later. It seemed like home, given the O’Rears were already there.

Over the years we shared potlucks, and attended our kids’ plays. On more than one occasion, I even served as a extra pair of hands, when GMI needed a new map produced, or a software manual written. Mike treated me as more than a day laborer, he even paid me royalties, when a mere contract fee would have sufficed.

Mike’s wife helped our organization do its annual 990 reports. All along Mike put the accent where it belonged, on those who were users of emerging technology in the developing world. He and Laura were consummate hosts to visitors from India, Africa and Asia. He served various terms with the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization as a senior associate for informational technology.

For several years he served on the District 12 school board in Colorado Springs, including a term as treasurer. I remember him being like a kid in a candy shop following board meetings and state functions. I asked him why, he said the budget was $250 million dollars, 100 times larger than his own organization. Mike loved good governance. He practically memorized and lived by the Carver policy model of governance, which offers CEO limitations in ethics and board limitations on managerial action.

When life took me back East to Regent University in 2003, Mike was very supportive. When we finally moved to Virginia Beach in 2008, Mike and Laura helped us pack out our house, and yes, they were cleaning it on the last day we were there. Mike understood me. He got my entrepreneurial bend. He got higher education. He got the future. His father had been a college president. Mike valued learning, research and innovation.

Twice since 2008 my travels took me back to Colorado. Each time I made it a point to visit Mike. He was a great listener. When you were with him, there was nobody else in the room.

Mike raised three boys and one girl with solid values and good eyes for fairness. They learned hard work, and respect for others. Each in their own way, they display a knack for the type of innovation, creativity and compassion that filled Mike’s life.

Mike was the mirror opposite of triumphalism in American culture and Western missions. He was postcolonial, post-patriarchial, post-hierachical and post-European in his theology; yet deeply centered in the Scriptures as a Bible believer from the big ranch country. Yet he was not one to attack “managerial missiology.” He was not a discontent. He lived by serving others. In this he was a sign of the age to come, a promise of the future.

Mike was committed to the great work of our time, to religious freedom, enterprise, justice and empowerment to all those under-served by the powers that be. His death has left a huge hole in my life. I am sure for many others as well.

Mike is likely as surprised to be where he is now, as we are that he is gone. Taking a golden parachute was not his style. Nevertheless, he will make the best of it. So must we.

Mike, in your new home, give a hug to your Mom… and Steve Jobs–while you are at it. We labor in the strength of your memory to create a future worthy of the next generation.

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