Christopher Blake LeBeau: An Unsquandered Life
Chris was once asked to pick a single word describe himself, to which he replied, “alive.” In spite of his having passed away this week at the age of 90, that is how many will remember him. The curiosity, passion, and authenticity he brought to the things he did in his own life and with those he met, defined luck we felt to know him.
He was born in December of 1982 to Ed and Mary Lynn, high school sweethearts that Chris said, "were simply the best". They loved each other in reckless abandon and provided a supportive, open, and loving home to grown up in. His early childhood was spent romping through the woods and summers were always highlighted with getaways to his grandparent’s home at the Lake of the Ozarks.
A seminal moment in his early years took place during sophomore year of high school when a friend prodded Chris to attend an after school theater meeting. Prior to this, Chris had been adrift for a couple years without many friends. Theater not only opened up a world he couldn’t get enough of -first on the lighting crew, then publications, then acting- but also brought him into a cohort of friends, many of whom he was close with throughout high school and early adulthood. Theater helped Chris find his voice and further invigorated his playful side.
His college experience was also defined more by a club than classes. In the fall of 2001, Chris enrolled at Truman State University. He was homesick at first, lamenting a girlfriend who was still back at his high school. But the Student Activities Board he was selected for shortly after arriving, again acted as a family and offered the challenge and excitement of planning entertainment for the college. Like theater, without SAB, his college experience would have been radically different.
After graduating, it took Chris about a year to find his footing. College hadn’t really prepared him for the kind of work he might do, and he had also failed to prepare himself by asking the right questions, so it took some searching. In 2006, two things happened:
Chris took a job with BJC HealthCare, helping to open Progress West HealthCare, which ultimately introduced him to strategic planning. A skill that he enjoyed and defined much of what he did throughout his career.
While Chris was born in St. Louis, he didn’t know much about his city before he found Metropolis St. Louis, a group that sought to retain young people in the city and engage them in the efforts to improve it. While his involvement with the group only lasted a couple years, it was the catalyst that lit his urban-obsession he retained for the rest of his life.
Chris remained steadfast until he passed away that moving to Kuala Lumpur at the age of 28 was one of the best choices he ever made. It was a year that brought many great memories and challenges. He moved there as one half of a couple but returned alone a year later. While he was saddened to leave his international life behind, it had given him a worldview that he could not have seen or understood prior to that. He realized shortly after moving back, that another overseas adventure awaited him in the future.
Seeking out the fringe and unconventional was part of who Chris was. He reveled in finding and soaking up unique experiences. A quote he cited regularly from Joi Ito captured this, "the world has plenty of expertise, what it lacks is context and agility." Only by experiencing more, learning more, being uncomfortable more often, would he better understand the world and what his purpose might be.
As a result, most people familiar with Chris knew better than to ask, “what’s new?”, if they didn’t want a lengthy answer because he always had something new on his mind or a story he was dying to share. Reading, seeing, and doing are three words that readily affixed themselves to Chris.
In his thirties, Chris found and held on to two great loves. Yoga entered his life as well as his wife.
Chris first noticed her at one of the many coffee shops he frequented around town. He chickened out from saying anything the first time so he started going back there to the point of noticeable excess until he ran into her again to ask her out. They clicked pretty early on through a number of common interests but also brought balance to each other. They were married when Chris was 36.
With each having a want to work and live abroad, they kept an eye open for the right opportunity to take the plunge. They lived outside of the US for several years and raised their two children there. Chris’s time in Malaysia as an “outsider” had taught him so much about who he was and the world he lived in. It was an experience he longed for kids of his own to have.
During Chris’s adult life, he worked diligently to maintain the friendships he had that meant so much to him. The busyness of life and its commitments often strains and diminishes friendships them over time. And he worked hard to make sure that those that mattered, stayed strong and true.
Chris never really got around to retiring. He found great enjoyment and inspiration in the fields of entrepreneurship, strategy and civic engagement, and by loving them that much, he never understood why he might stop?! He did spend more time with his family and friends as he got older but the thought of golfing and other routine activities for an indefinite period of time never sat well with him. Chris’s hard work paid off later in life when he was recognized by the Kauffman and Skoll Foundations for his work and dedication to entrepreneurship.
Chris leaves behind his wife, two children, and his brother Clayton.
Chris preferred that his body be donated to science but asked that he be memorialized through the inscription, “There is no weapon on earth more powerful than the human soul on fire.”