Click on the play button to listen to the audio version.
I was in D.C. on Friday for the celebration of life for my friend, Dave Stevens. Dave was a former FHA Commissioner under Barack Obama and an icon in the mortgage banking industry. I was lucky to know Dave as a good friend. Over the years, we would often speak about complicated housing issues, and if we disagreed, which was rare, he would always say, “But I get why you have to take that position, dude. Go do what you have to do”. When we met about 20 years ago, I had just started with NAHREP, and he was working at Freddie Mac. He was an early supporter and went out of his way to introduce me to several influential people.
The FHA Commissioner is the highest-ranking homeownership official in the U.S. government. Dave was commissioner during the 2008 housing crisis, the roughest stretch in the housing economy since the Great Depression. We spoke often during his tenure. He was a phenomenal leader, and I have often said that we were lucky to have someone as astute and action-oriented as Dave sitting in such a vital position during that critical time. Dave never turned down an offer to speak at NAHREP. He was a charismatic speaker and a favorite among the NAHREP faithful. After his stint at FHA, Dave went on to lead the Mortgage Bankers Association, taking an organization that was on the brink back to its rightful position of prominence and influence.
One of the things I remember the most about Dave is that he always knew everything about my family and was genuinely interested in what they were all doing. Many people ask about your family, but it frequently sounds forced and insincere. Their eyes sometimes glaze over when you talk about one of your kids. Dave wasn’t that way at all. When I would post something on social media about one of them, he would often comment with an intelligent statement or compliment.
I sat with my friend Eddy Perez during Dave’s memorial on Friday and as well as we knew Dave, we were both awestruck with the number of people in the industry who clearly knew him as well or better than we did. The dude was incredibly good at relationships. I say “dude” because it was Dave’s favorite word! If I am making it seem like Dave was a soft, creampuff of a guy, he wasn’t. He was tough and highly opinionated. He had no problem telling you when he thought you were wrong and wasn’t afraid to take on the “assholes” in Washington, D.C. But that’s what I think makes all the sensitive stuff he did so much more meaningful and authentic.
I always knew how much of a family man Dave was, but it was still very moving to see his family honoring him with humor, music, love, and nostalgia, just the way he would have wanted it. The only time I teared up at the event was when I hugged my friend Brad Blackwell, who opened and closed the event. Brad was Dave’s best friend since college. We promised to talk more frequently in the future. That’s the best thing about these types of events; you see old friends and are reminded of how important it is to stay in touch.
Dave phoned me in 2016 to let me know he would not be able to fulfill his commitment to speak at an upcoming NAHREP event due to a recent diagnosis of stage 4 cancer. I was stunned because Dave was always the picture of health, but we all know these things strike with impunity. I remember thinking while we were speaking on the phone that he was talking about his cancer with the same degree of controlled emotion as he would about a serious housing policy issue. To him, from my perspective, it seemed like cancer was something else that he would have to have to find a way to beat – and for more than seven years, he defied the odds and did exactly that.
Last year, I wrote a blog titled “The Road to Happiness Consists of Four Things.” Those four things were Relationships, Achievement, Peace, and Health. While we all lose our health at some point, I think I admired Dave as much as I did because he definitely embodied all four. He was a master at relationships, especially the ones that mattered most. He obviously reached the pinnacle of professional success. He was a content person who was always more than comfortable in his own skin and loved to laugh as much as anyone.
I lost a friend, and NAHREP lost an ally, but we were all lucky to have crossed paths when we did. Dave lived a good life. He was a great man, but I think it was more important to him and his awesome wife, Mary, that he was a good man, which he most definitely was.