In Memory of Roger Fisher | Bettina Network's Blog

In Memory of Roger Fisher

by:  Marceline Donaldson

Sprinkled through Bettina Network’s Blog you will find memories of people we knew and with whom we have interacted over the years.  This time, it is someone who was one of those – along with Larry Susskind of MIT – who were majorly responsible for the growth and survival of Bettina Network, inc.

Roger Fisher was on my mind over the past week – because I wanted to thank him for helping us begin and move forward with the bed & breakfast part of this business.  I didn’t know where to find him and didn’t push to discover his whereabouts so the newspaper informed me this morning of Roger Fisher’s death.

A long time ago, in 1984, Roger Fisher and Larry Susskind turned up at our front door to talk about the possibility of using Bettina’s for their guests coming from around the world.  I remember Roger Fisher sitting in our living room when one of those working with him took me aside to ask if I knew we were entertaining “God”.  That was my introduction to Roger Fisher.  My response was – then “God” has come to the right place because we are building heaven’s annex.  Clearly, we understood there were at least two major ego’s in that room that day!

We were just starting this business and unlike those who claim to have started on a shoe string of maybe $10,000 in debt, we started this business with some $1,000,000 in debt.  I had no idea what I was doing – I knew why – I thought I really knew all there was to know about business – we had some experience with bed & breakfast in another house, but not much – so here we were not sure where we would land, how we would pull this off or where to turn and “God” walked into our living room.

Roger Fisher and Larry Susskind sent us lots of guests and set the tone for what we would become.  Larry and Leslie would come to stay when the weather was bad and they couldn’t make it to Southborough.  Unfortunately for us, they now live in Cambridge.

Over that time period, there were White and Black South Africans in the house at the same time just across the hall from one another before Nelson Mandela and the dismantling of apartheid.  They had never been together before and it was exhilarating for them and for us as they giggled together; went to dinner together; worked together and with Roger and Larry tried to bring about something that hadn’t been seen in South Africa for generations.  We became a bit worried when the last two days of their stay the house became as quiet as a tomb.  The White South Africans and the Black South Africans had separated; went to dinner in their separate groups; stopped going back and forth from one room to another and generally pulled apart, leaving for the airport in two vans – one with the White South Africans, one with the Black South Africans. We called Larry because we were concerned something had happened and learned about “re-entry”.  Something the soul does for you when you are going back into the separatist situation from which you’ve come.

We had Hindu’s in the house the day Gandhi was shot and we were expecting another couple the next day who were Sikh’s.  We had Greek Cypriots and Turks’ sharing the house at the same time during some difficult days for them and before all of them we had Russians before Perestroika.

At one point with the Russians we knew we were going to be picked up by the CIA and hauled off to federal prison because we knew nothing about what was coming, we only knew the Russians were the enemy and here they were exchanging research across our breakfast table with their American counterparts and who were their hosts? – Roger Fisher and Larry Susskind.

Our breakfasts were nothing short of sensational and we were heady being able to talk and listen and understand what was happening in the world outside of the very narrow vision of what was normal for Boston and Cambridge.  We were spared guests who talked about the weather, their aches and pains and their miscreant children.

We thought this was what bed & breakfast was all about and we shaped a business following the path laid out for us by Roger Fisher and Larry Susskind.  Without them we would have taken a different turn and probably would be sitting on the street corner wrapped in a sleeping bag – although a very elegant one!

You go through life and never really know what or how you have touched someone else’s life.  My procrastination in reaching out to Roger Fisher to say thank you is kind of typical of the way most of us live with the assumption that life is forever.  It is not and those words of gratitude and appreciation need to be said long before the end comes.

This is very late Roger Fisher, but thank you!!  Thank you for helping us understand how we could carry that $1 million in debt, survive and grow a business which contributes goodness to life.  We don’t pretend to know much about Negotiation the way you and Larry Susskind developed it, but we do know how human and equal we all become around a table sharing food and good conversation – that alone gives hope that one day we will stop the intense violence, pretending that it will solve our conflicts and bring about peace.

Those first few years when we entertained bed & breakfast guests from the Negotiation Project sent to us by Roger Fisher and Larry Susskind were days we shall never forget and days we always keep uppermost in our minds as a paradigm for this Bettina Network business.

We reached the point, in those days, of not wanting to have guests if they did not have great wisdom to contribute over the breakfast table.  Today, we have some remembrances of that and we strive to bring everyone who visits our homes and our host families into an understanding of what that was like and how fantastic a business this is when we keep those standards, that conversation, those dreams of a world full of diversity where we can come together, disagree, work through those disagreements and walk into a very bright light after breakfast.

Roger, may you walk into a great light and enjoy the fruits of your life’s work as you enter another sphere of growing in wisdom, knowledge and understanding in a way we will not understand until we reach that end point where we join you in your endeavors.


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