Remembering Doug Karlen

By Robert C. Strybel
Vice President & Senior National Commercial Counsel
Chicago Title Insurance Company, NCS Chicago

I had the pleasure of working with Doug Karlen for the better part of twenty years. I benefitted greatly from his vast title knowledge, his almost encyclopedic memory, and his ability – usually safely within company parameters – of finding creative solutions to the most-complex of title issues.

As much as I valued the insight and expertise he so readily shared, what I cherish most is remembering Doug not just as a colleague or a mentor, but as a friend.

For a number of years – first at Clark Street and later at 10 South LaSalle – Doug was a regular at our lunch table, which featured an ever-evolving cast of underwriters, management and staff. While no one would confuse us with the Algonquin Round Table, we prided ourselves on occasionally solving a world problem or two – even if it only related to the Cubs’ bullpen.

To be sure, there was a steady stream of title talk, but topics ran the gamut: music, sports, history, current events – little was off-limit. (A running joke: “Politics is too divisive. Let’s talk about religion instead.”) I learned of Doug’s passion for classical music and opera – he was a regular at the Lyric, and would share his thoughts and critiques on the latest performances. Would that his appreciation rubbed off on me; after I butchered the operatic origins of the musical “Rent,” I was lucky not to be banished.

As was Doug’s way, he rarely sought to be the center of attention. Instead, like the good teacher that he was, Doug often would get the discussion started simply by throwing out a question - “So … what’s this I’m reading about a new court case/news story/title memo?” – knowing the table would run with it.

Speaking of memos: the lunch room also was where I was introduced to Doug’s prescience in handling memos and bulletins.  “The Karlen Rule” dictated that such missives should be held from distribution for three days, in anticipation of receipt of the inevitable revision.

Doug had a sharp sense of humor; dry, occasionally biting, but never offensive. This also was reflected in his writing – thoughtful and detailed, but with enough wit to keep a reader’s attention. “Title Granny” is pure Doug: who else could deliver such a concise synopsis of title insurance in such an amusing manner? That was Doug’s gift – the ability to explain the arcane (and frequently mundane) in a way even his Bubbe could understand.

Doug’s writing skills also made him an excellent sounding-board for my own efforts. I had the good fortune of co-authorizing a paper with him – admittedly more his work than mine – and his comments to my input were detailed and constructive.

That Doug could accomplish all this, despite his nearly life-long low vision, speaks volumes of his determination. For those who only knew Doug from emails and phone calls, you may never have known the efforts he put in to simply reading a title report or a court case. And that was how Doug wanted it – he refused to be defined or limited by his disability.

At his retirement dinner last year, Doug urged those gathered to be compassionate, and generous with both time and knowledge – to be a “mensch;” that is, a good human being. In word and in deed, Doug was a true mensch – and there’s no need to wait three days for everyone to know that.