Ice Bucket Challenge's Pat Quinn: an ordinary kid who changed the world

North 6th Agency CEO Matt Rizzetta remembers ALS Ice Bucket Challenge co-founder Pat Quinn, who passed away Sunday.

Ice Bucket Challenge co-founder Pat Quinn at the Washington Post's Ingenuity 2015 millennial entrepreneurship summit. (Pic: Kate Warren for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Ice Bucket Challenge co-founder Pat Quinn at the Washington Post's Ingenuity 2015 millennial entrepreneurship summit. (Pic: Kate Warren for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

It was a magical time to be a student at Iona College in the early-to-mid 2000s. It was primarily a commuter school back then, filled with students just like me, the first or second children in our families to attend college.

Most of us had part-time jobs to put ourselves through school or played sports and there was a grit, scrappiness, and spirit of togetherness that buzzed on North Avenue, the college's main thoroughfare. Most of the arguments were over which bar to choose for Monday Night Football and what the "I" in Iona stood for. Surely it was either Italians On North Avenue or Irish On North Avenue.

As the years passed, the college has transformed from a commuter school to a destination for accomplished students from across the country. However, when I was a student, it was a throwback to a working-class college scene that is rare to come by nowadays.

On a daily basis, I'd make my way up the stairs to an apartment where a few buddies of mine lived together. It was the typical college bachelor's pad in every sense with wide-open doors, empty pizza boxes on the floor, and crumbled up betting slips strewn across broken coffee tables.

Little did I know that from this most ordinary of college backdrops, one of the most extraordinary people of our generation would emerge.

Back then, Pat Quinn was just like every other student. Hard-working, and always there to lend a helping hand with a smile on his face. I lost touch with him for years until after he was diagnosed with ALS. But we eventually ran into each other at an Iona College event and he immediately welcomed me as a friend. It was as if we never skipped a beat.

"Matt, I heard you went on to do big things!" he exclaimed. I felt embarrassed, almost insulted, in a way. Here was a real hero who had changed the world and given hope and inspiration to so many. Here was someone who had shaken the hands of global leaders, given speeches to major corporations, and raised hundreds of millions of dollars for ALS.

Still, he was asking about my successes as an entrepreneur instead of talking about his own accomplishments.

By then, Pat was in his early 30s and beginning to show the brutal effects of the disease. I had started my business several years earlier and had just celebrated the birth of my third daughter.

Pat was elated to hear the news and rejoiced in my success. There was not a modicum of hostility even though he knew his physical limitations would never allow him to experience the family or entrepreneurial milestones I had.

I was struck by his humility and genuineness. He approached life head-on with a fighting spirit and an eternal optimism that is so precious.

Even though he did not practice marketing by trade, Pat should be remembered as a marketing innovator and pioneer. His contributions to the craft left an indelible mark on our profession. Because while in deteriorating health and with a terminal diagnosis, Pat Quinn co-founded the Ice Bucket Challenge.

In today's marketing landscape we are so accustomed to virality. But the Ice Bucket Challenge was one of the first and most transformational viral marketing initiatives of our generation.

We can always debate the all-time greatest doses of marketing innovation. But until another initiative secures $200 million in donations and participation from Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, the Yankees and Red Sox, and Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos — until that time comes — the Ice Bucket Challenge stands alone in my book.

Throughout this past year, Pat would check in regularly to ask how my family and business were holding up during the pandemic. His emails reflected the energy and hope he radiated; always filled with exclamation points and words of encouragement.

His vitality, purposefulness, and humility were inspiring and helped me keep things in perspective during this challenging year. If Pat could remain positive despite a terminal illness, I could tell myself it would be easy to manage a P&L and keep our staff's spirits up during the volatilities of the pandemic.

Over the years as Pat's condition diminished, it became difficult for him to make public appearances. However, he wanted to come in and speak to our company at our office in downtown Manhattan.

We finally booked a date in March for Pat to come in and even renamed one of our conference rooms as a dedication to him. We were planning to unveil the "Pat Quinn Underdog Room" when he visited. But right before the visit, COVID-19 devastated the New York area and we had to postpone the event.

Pat emailed me many times over the following months, vowing to make it in. Just like everything else in life, he was steadfast in his commitment to share his mission and spread his message of hope with our employees.

Unfortunately, that day never came. However, his spirit of hope, perseverance, and optimism will live on forever in our company, and in so many millions of people across the world.

Please take a minute to remember one of the most ordinary college kids who went on to change the world in extraordinary ways. Rest In Peace Pat Quinn; a true hero and one of the most underrated marketing pioneers of our generation.

Matt Rizzetta is CEO of North 6th Agency.

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