Jeff Wagg


Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.

Sunset in the Bermuda Triangle

Quote by Dr. Seuss.

On August 31st, I worked my last day as a JREF employee. It was a bittersweet event, filled with nostalgia for the past and hope for the future. If you'll indulge me, I'll explain a bit.

I started working at the JREF in May 2005. Well, I wasn't actually an employee then... I was a full-time volunteer, helping the JREF with mostly technical and website matters. One thing led to another, and I became an integral part of things. It became my life, so much that friends and family would complain that all I did was work. And they were right.

But it was a labor of love, and before long, "JREF Jeff" and "Jeff" became one and the same. Now, five years later, it's time for me to move on. I accomplished a great deal at the JREF, and I'm proud of things that were done while I was there. Randi got to meet Lonesome George in the Galapagos. Attendance at The Amaz!ng Meeting grew from a few hundred to well over a thousand. Hundreds of people travelled with skeptical friends for the very first time, and a few college students got help with their tuition. Challenges were completed, the $1,000,000 was NOT won, and countless articles were written on subjects ranging from homeopathy to anomalous apes. In short, good things happened, and I'm very proud to have been part of that.

But that's not what I want to write about. What I want to write about is three specific people. Well... four. Two of them are attached.

Karl and Linda

The first I need to mention is Linda Shallenberger. I first met Linda at TAM 2, at the Tuscany in Las Vegas. It makes me laugh now to think that TAM actually fit there. I knew right away that she was the one making things happen. Every organization has one of those... the "get it done" person, and Linda was the JREF's. Always on the verge of retiring, it took her until TAM 8 to finally do so. Being largely out of the spotlight, she hasn't received the credit she deserved, but those of us in the trenches know: there would be no JREF today without Linda. Linda, I feel so very fortunate to have worked with you, and thank you for your wisdom, ingenuity and dedication.

And Linda brought along her husband, Karl. Karl would come to TAM and work his ass off doing any menial task that was required. At the same time, his experience with management and people helped us make some crucial decisions in how things went. He wasn't always happy with how things went and disagreed with me a few times, but he was always supportive. He has my enduring thanks and respect.

Hal adjusts Randi's Mic (from Phil Plait)

The second is Hal Bidlack. Hal was a volunteer at the JREF for  nearly a decade. During his time there, he served on the board, ran and shaped the forum, and was the perennial MC at TAM. He even joined us on a couple of cruises. Hal is the guy in the spotlight who grabs it and points it at someone else. I've known few people who could match not only his credentials but also his humility. If you were ever looking for a moral center to skepticism, Hal wouldn't be far from it. He'd probably bristle at that idea, but this is my blog, so he doesn't get a say.

The three of us, Linda, Hal and I did most of the planning and running of TAMs 3 through 8. I wasn't on staff at TAM 3, and Hal wasn't at TAM 5.5, and Linda wasn't at TAM 8, but I think we were a hell of a team. TAM became THE conference for skeptics and critical thinkers, and it remains so. How cool is that?

However, as the success of TAM London 2010 shows, TAM isn't just about the people running it. None of us were involved at all with TAM London 2010, and yet the reports I've heard proclaim it a huge success. Kudos to  Tracy King for a job well done. But more important, kudos to the attendees or "delegates." It's the community that's made TAM and the JREF a special place, and as they grow in numbers and expand internationally, I hope good things continue.

And the final person, is, of course James "The Amazing" Randi. Many friends and family actually call him "Amazing" as though it's his first name, but I still default to "Mr. Randi." Randi is no longer my employer, but he remains my friend. I can't tell you how much this means to me. I've been quoted as saying something along the lines of "Don't become friends with your heroes. In the end, they'll be neither." And I think that's largely true – but Randi is the exception. I've seen him at the best of time and worst of times. He called me despondent that his home was destroyed by hurricane Wilma,  and jubilant that Johnny Carson donated a large check to "teach Montel a lesson." I've seen him dancing in the halls and flat on his back fighting, oh let's see... cancer, heart attacks, the effects of chemo – I swear he's immortal.

Randi in Alaska (by the fabulous Kitty Mervine)

Randi calls himself a "curmudgeon," and I think he likes this image. He can be quite grumpy about some things, and you certainly do NOT want to be his adversary. But what motivates this man is quite removed from his public persona: it's compassion. The Faith Healers is a very angry book. Randi calls down hellfire and brimstone on these charlatans who proclaim special powers. He does this because he's morally outraged at the lies they tell and is devastated by the lives they've ruined.

Don't believe me? Read the prologue to that book, or better yet, find tape of Randi's appearance at the Skeptic Society conference in May, 2005 where Randi broke down in tears describing a disabled boy looking for relief from these "men of god." I've met taller men, but I don't know that I'll ever meet one as clever, generous, and downright charming as Randi.

So a chapter closes, and a new one begins. I'm told that the JREF has big things planned, and I look forward to seeing them. I've been appointed a "JREF Fellow" where I'll be working on what I think is an interesting project. Randi has been more active than ever travelling the world and meeting people. This is where he's at his best, and what he enjoys the most. I'm very happy for him.

Of course, I'm neglecting a few dozen folks who also should be mentioned. I know who you are, and I won't forget.

For me, I've started a whole new life. I've moved to Chicago to continue a relationship with someone who's way too good for me. I continue as a co-host of Rational Alchemy, and I've started a couple of new projects.

Jeff and Jen in Chicago (Ingrid Laas)

First, is IndieSkeptics. Yes, it's another blog, but the difference is that it's not for me – it's for you. If you have no time to blog but want to occasionally, we can be your home. Want to write but aren't really sure how? Talk to me. I can get your thoughts down and onto the server.

Second, is SkepTours. Continuing in the tradition of the JREF's Amaz!ng Adventures, we'll be gathering skeptics and travelling around the world. We're currently taking bookings on a March 2011 cruise to Jamaica and an October 2011 journey to Egypt and Istanbul. Future trips include an "end of the world" cruise to the Yucatan peninsula in December 2012 and we're looking into a land tour of Loch Ness.

Thanks for reading this, thanks for being a skeptic, and keeping it positive. This is just the beginning.

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