When Neil Met Irwin

Neil Dolinsky, with daughters Helen and Luci, just weeks before his unexpected passing

My best friend, Neil, who died of a sudden heart attack last May a few days after his fiftieth birthday, was a big fan of Minneapolis businessman Irwin Jacobs. I worked with Neil for seven years at an investment management firm and he was always searching for investment opportunities, intent on finding lucrative deals for his clients.

I mention Irwin Jacobs because one day Neil found himself seated right behind Irwin on a business flight. When Neil realized who was sitting in front of him, he felt a rush of nervousness and excitement (much like I would have felt had I found myself sitting behind Harmon Killebrew when I was a kid!). Hurriedly but thoroughly, Neil wrote up a short-selling deal he was working on, tapped Irwin on the shoulder, introduced himself and asked if Irwin wouldn’t mind looking at the specifics of the deal. Irwin graciously agreed, looked the plan over, and handed it back to Neil, commenting that it looked like a solid deal but one that was too small for him to get involved in. Neil was thrilled with the encounter and excitedly told me about it when he returned to the office.

Minneapolis businessman Irwin Jacobs

That was years ago. This week I am working on a magazine profile of a managing general partner of a private equity firm who told me that he used to be Irwin Jacobs’ banker. Of course, whenever I hear Irwin’s name, I think of Neil. So I thought it would be especially nice to get a quote from Irwin for the profile. I e-mailed him and he promptly responded with a thoughtful, complimentary quote.

At dinner tonight with another good friend of Neil’s, I told her the story and said how much I wished I could call Neil and tell him that I just got a quote from Irwin Jacobs. We both smiled at the thought, knowing how much he would have loved that.

Neil, you are missed.

NOTE: After posting this, I received a very nice e-mail from Gail Fairchild, Executive Assistant to Irwin Jacobs. I asked Gail for permission to add it to the post:

This story really touched me, and not just because I work for Irwin. The interaction you described between him and your friend, Neil, is just an example of why I personally admire Irwin so much, but it is also a reminder of how such a short interaction can really leave an impression on people—something I think we should all be more mindful of every day.


Phil is the author of Through God’s Eyes: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Troubled World, a comprehensive guide to living a spiritual life. Who will benefit from reading it?

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2 Responses to “When Neil Met Irwin”

  1. David Jaeger Says:

    This was certainly a great experience for Neil, and a cool thing for Jacobs to do. I know Neil would have done the same thing for somebody else. Neil is indeed missed.

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Absolutely, Dave. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.

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