We have some devastating news. Earlier this month, Ethical Systems lost our beloved colleague Noel Boyland to a heart attack. Noel was our corporate engagement director and a dear friend—to us, and to many within the wider Ethical Systems network.
His good nature was infectious and lives on in our memories. Below, we share some of what made Noel special to each of us.
In April 2019, I sent Noel an email with the header “You are [or might be] my savior.” Until then, Noel had been a friendly member of the Ethical Systems community. After Azish Filabi left, he stepped in as our interim executive director, taking over and guiding us through the search process that brought Alison to us. He took on (and retained) oversight of our finances, taxes, and audits. He worked with our collaborators and was a trusted advisor to companies on many of our research projects.
The work Noel did for us was vital, but he did so much more than his roles and titles would suggest. He was the heart of Ethical Systems. We have all been reflecting on the little things Noel did that revealed his love and concern for friends and colleagues. For example, he would stay on the line after team calls to ask about our families, check up on our wellbeing, or discuss key issues of the day. He made every situation seem like it was fun and exciting, no matter how challenging the reality.
I joined Ethical Systems for the chance to work with Noel, and for the last four years I have spoken and written to him several times a week. I have open conversations with him in my phone and inbox, where he’s offering warmth and support, brainstorming about key challenges, debating current affairs, but mostly sharing silly running jokes. Whether it was family, colleagues, work, or hiking, I grew to rely on his wisdom, open-mindedness, and boundless humor. Since we lost him I have walked in the woods talking to him, continuing our conversations, imagining what he would say. It is some comfort, but I feel a terrible sense of loss. I am so grateful I got the chance to know him and spend time with him, for his friendship and for his support.
He had the biggest heart, and his depth of understanding was remarkable. His experience navigating all the challenges that life had thrown at him was a source of comfort to me as I navigated mine.
He spoke of his wife Lori and his daughters Gillian and Jordana with such love and care. He was so proud of his colleagues and all that they accomplished, and the love they gave him. I will miss Noel so much.
He could always take a complicated set of challenges and make them seem easy, and fun; he loved people, working with people, catching up with them, collaborating with them. I think it was his love of people that brought him to Ethical Systems. He loved helping leaders navigate corporate culture so that it benefits everyone involved in business as a social enterprise.
His thirst for knowledge and justice made him the quintessential ethical champion. Noel firmly believed that companies could embrace a different model, and he loved to work with clients to help them get there. He used humor to open hearts and give others space to tune in. For him, judgment didn’t need to be part of a conversation; curiosity was the key to building relationships. He could weave a thousand threads while chatting with people and picking their brains, always listening and paying close attention. He was a “humanity” researcher and a genuine connector, making his absence today all the more felt.
Noel possessed a unique blend of thoughtfulness, wisdom, and kindness that is simply irreplaceable. Whether discussing work projects, health, or social issues, he always had a way of bringing clarity and comforting advice to the conversation. He lived his values in a way that I greatly admire, vigorously pursuing anything that could benefit people or the planet. Noel was the type of person we want and need more of in this world.
Noel was a generously sweet guy. He subscribed to my magazine’s newsletter, and whenever he saw that I’d written something, he would read it and want to talk to me about it, even if it was just to say he enjoyed a turn of phrase, or that he found the research fascinating. He loved ideas and was always—I don’t want to say “humble”—the opposite of arrogant about how much he knew or understood. He wanted everyone to feel smart, and part of his charm was in being so good at that, you didn’t even notice. But I think most of all he wanted people around him to feel like he cared about them as a human being. Noel took that for granted.
If you would like to honor Noel’s memory, here are organizations you can donate to, as well as Ethical Systems of course: