Willard Says...

July 13, 2017

My Friend Matt

By Jonathan Zimmerman

Life isn’t fair!

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why me?

What have I done to deserve this?

Why must I suffer like this?

In life, tragic events that simply defy logic and explanation occur on a regular basis. It is common for so many people to continuously utter the aforementioned expressions and possess such self pitying thoughts. Matt Gould was never one of these individuals. Heaven knows he had every right to be, but that is just not the way this remarkable and inspirational individual was wired.

Matt passed away this week at the way-too-young age of 44. If you work in the real estate industry, there is a good chance you had the privilege of meeting Matt at some point over the past two decades when he worked either as an office broker at Real Estate Consultants, Rubloff, or for the last 11 years as a retail broker at Mid-America.

Matt’s spirit was unparalleled. He was the most positive, energetic and kind-hearted person in the business; no one ever had a bad word to say about him. He worked hard, always kept things light-hearted, played by the rules and cared deeply about his clients. They, in turn, reciprocated.

Matt and I met early on in our respective careers when he brought a client by to see a space I was marketing. We hit it off instantly and, from that point forward, went out of our way to try and do business together. After attending an industry event with Matt one night–having had just a bit too much to drink–we determined that we had to find a way to work together. The next day, I called the owners of Rubloff and told them that we needed to add this guy to our team. We quickly set up a meeting and fortunately, they saw the same traits in Matt that I did. Our 5 years together at Rubloff were filled with many ups and few downs. I often told him that as co-workers, we were better as friends. Still, I honestly enjoyed every minute.

While I struggle to make sense of what happened, I take comfort in our many joyous memories. It is difficult to mention them all, but here are a few of those clean enough for sharing in a public forum.

Matt and I complemented each other well and shared a similar mindset, as well a few silly superstitions. For example, prior to doing a showing for a good sized vacancy we had been marketing in the South Loop, we stopped in a greasy spoon for lunch. For some reason, we both ordered a plate of turkey and broccoli smothered with cheese sauce; it was utterly disgusting. However, we ultimately ended up making the deal and there was no doubt in our minds that it was due to this very meal. From then on, whenever we had a big meeting, we would first stop at this restaurant and “enjoy” the same dish.

Then there was the frustrating and futile attempt at leasing the dysfunctional Pittsfield Building. Initially, we were excited to get the listing, but really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. The building was falling apart, the owner would not spend money and invoices were never paid on time. On our first day, it took us 7 hours to get through all of the many vacancies. I had my fill early on, but like he did with everything in life, Matt powered through and refused to give up. As always, he made the best of the situation. He befriended a group of very difficult tenants and even won over the owner, who I am convinced never liked a broker in his entire life until he met Matt.

I think back to our endless sports debates that usually led to disagreements (with the exception of our mutual love for the White Sox). We always overanalyzed everything related to fantasy football but our favorite topic was the NBA. The biggest Lakers fan in Chicago? Matt Gould. I would be a billionaire now if I had a penny for every time I heard the names Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal.
Without a doubt, however, my favorite Matt Gould memory has to do with his saint of a wife, Janel. I am proud to report that I can take at least partial credit for making the introduction. Janel had been working in the Office of the Building at 100 West Monroe, where our office also happened to be located. It was obvious that sparks were flying the moment they laid eyes on one another. After a few days, she commented that they “connect on an entirely different level”. Matt thought they were keeping their dating a secret, but everyone was on to them and could not be happier that they found one another. After some time of their indiscreet office dating, they decided to take it to the altar. Their wedding was one of the best I ever attended and I was honored to be part of that special day.

Some time later, Matt informed me that he had accepted a job with Mid-America; it was tough for me to swallow. On one hand, I knew it was a great opportunity that he could not pass up but I was saddened to see him go and knew that the office would never be the same. He made the right move, though, as he instantly found his niche in the industry and enjoyed significant and deserved success while touching many people along the way.

He was so altruistic and was always willing to put someone else’s needs before his own. I think back to the time I had a health issue which kept me out of the office for an extended period of time and Matt seamlessly picked up the slack and never once complained. A few years ago, when Janel courageously endured a health challenge of her own, Matt never lost his positive outlook on life. I knew he was torn up inside and terrified at what might happen, but he never let on. He simply supported her unconditionally and held the family together. Not only was he an amazing husband, but also a remarkable father to his adorable twin girls, Ava and Olivia.

Just a few months after Janel returned to good health, we learned of Matt’s cancer diagnosis. Everyone was completely floored; I still cannot wrap my mind around it. In true Matt form, however, his approach to life never changed. Throughout the endless number of chemotherapy sessions, he continued enjoying life to the fullest, never stopped joking around, and refused to give up. This darn guy even ran a marathon–and finished!–to raise money for cancer research while undergoing treatment.

Even in his hardest times, he was consistently one of the most positive and inspirational people I knew. It is rare when one is fortunate enough to meet a person who truly changes your life.

My Sunday mornings will never be the same without his endless number of text messages asking who he should start in this week’s fantasy football game. I will miss our mutual pep talks about our respective struggles in real estate and his smartass, juvenile, yet hilarious sense of humor that would always brighten my day. As painful as it is to lose him, I am heartened by that fact that Matt truly got every ounce out of his life.

Matt, thank you for all that you shared. Thank you for being my friend. I will never forget you.

Matt Gould

Matt’s family requests that donations in his honor be made to the American Cancer Society (