Paul May

Red Burns

24 August 2013

Red Burns, founder of ITP, and true force of nature, died yesterday.

I first met Red during my impromptu interview for ITP. Cliona and I were visiting New York for just one day. We were engaged, and spent the morning buying our wedding rings in the diamond district. We stopped by ITP for a tour with George Agudow.

Red heard that I was on the floor, and called me into her office. She asked Cliona to come in too, and found a comfortable chair for her to sit in while we talked.

“So, I’ve read your application and I can’t make head or tail of it.”

Any idea that this was going to be a casual chat went out the window. She proceeded to grill me for a solid hour about what I had written, why I wanted to come to ITP, what my ideas were.

Truth be told, I didn’t know exactly why I wanted to come to ITP. I was worried that I was becoming a talker and not a doer. I wanted to make things again. I was interested in health and the human body. Instead of just saying that, I had written thousands of words of the worst sort of bullshit.

Red called me out, and I had very little to say for myself.

Afterwards, Cliona and I sat quietly eating a slice of pizza in the corner deli. I was grumpy. How dare she do that in front of my future wife!? Maybe ITP wasn’t for me. (Cliona rightly pointed out that I should have expected her to interview me, or at least talk to me, if I was visiting all the way from Ireland).

Anyway. I got into ITP. I got to make things again. I got to meet the most wonderful people. I learned and grew more in two years than I had in the previous ten. I got to do all of this thanks to Red.

I had many more encounters with her over the years. She took an interest in some of my projects, and made sure I talked to the right people about them. She was constantly working to make sure that our work was as good as it could be, and had the maximum impact.

Whenever I start to lose my nerve, or I feel myself drifting into excuses, I think of my interview with Red. I summon some of her clarity, and I get myself back on track.

Red Burns changed my life. Thank you Red.

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  • Paul May is a researcher, interaction designer, and technologist from Dublin, Ireland. He is currently working with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on smart health applications.