Peter’s Legacy: Bigger than an Office

By Hilary Haycock, President

Harbage Consulting started at our dining room table – the same table in my dining room today. Peter would sit with his laptop, cell phone, piles of papers and an occasional lap cat, to talk with clients, send emails, write papers, and do all the hard work to make his vision for better healthcare a reality.

The company has grown so much since those early days. Peter moved back to Sacramento and alternatively set up camp in the back section of the Capitol Garage and the bar at the Grange before finally deciding he needed a real office space.

We now have a bustling office here in downtown Sacramento. Moving into this physical space was a big deal for Peter. It meant a commitment to Sacramento and to a staff to work with him. It was the motivation for me to return to California from Washington DC to join him. Within a year we doubled the space and put down roots throughout the country.

Peter was really proud of this office. He commissioned a local artist to do an amazing series of work highlighting California’s history of healthcare reform – up to and including Peter’s work with Governor Schwarzenegger in the mid-2000s. He had a vision of a work space that included not only offices, but also a common area to foster collaboration with couches, meeting tables, and a whiteboard wall. We continue to use and appreciate this space every day.

It was a busy time for Harbage Consulting and especially for Peter. He was traveling across country to meet with clients. He was managing staff in several states. At the same time, we bought and renovated a home in Sacramento. And Peter underwent treatment for cancer and had a bone marrow transplant. His own office at Harbage Consulting was left unfinished; nothing hung on the walls and his desk was covered with to-do lists scribbled on the backs of dinner receipts and hotel room note pads.

Peter died unexpectedly. He had accomplished so much for someone so young. And there was so much work, unfinished, left to me and his team.

In the days after his death, my mother decided that if she couldn’t mend our broken hearts, she could at least fix his half-finished office. She framed and hung his diplomas and awards, and a photo from our wedding. She gathered all the little notes and receipts on his desk and framed them, too. It was a memorial to both his major life moments, and to the everyday Peter we knew. We placed his hat and favorite jacket on his desk, almost as if they – and we – were waiting for him to come rushing in, laptop bag over his shoulder, late for a meeting, holding his phone and a cup of Capitol Garage coffee.

As I worked to figure out how to navigate life without Peter, I would sometimes go into his office. I sat down on the couch I’d picked for him, a mid-century modern twin to the Chesterfield loveseat in my office next door. Sometimes I’d cry, feeling overwhelmed by sadness. Sometimes, I’d ask him for advice on how to deal with a challenging client or a sticky policy issue. Or I’d tell him a funny story from my day. It was comforting knowing this safe space was always there.

Harbage Consulting has come a long way in the past four years. Recently, we had a need for more office space for our growing staff. We made the decision, after four years, to put Peter’s office to use. Reorganizing the space was also a moment for us to reflect on the work Peter accomplished, to remember what the office meant to him, and to acknowledge how proud he would be of the work we continue to do. We are guided by Peter’s spirit and mission and energized by new members of the Harbage team and will continue to chip away at his unfinished business, improving health care for all Americans.