(FORTUNE Magazine) – Every dog has its day--until it ends. Farewell, old friend. My old reporting structure was born in the fall of 1992 when we exchanged one chairman for another. Outside our panoramic windows, the trees were exploding in a riot of red and orange and yellow. Inside, we wondered what the change of seasons--and the move from Chet to Walt--would bring. What would happen to Finster, whose entire power base suddenly seemed built on Cream of Wheat? To Morgenstern, Rafferty, Burbage, Each of us was in some way inexorably attached to the previous reporting structure, had played with him, fed him, nursed him back to health after he was run over by a management consultant from corporate headquarters in the summer of '85. We loved him a lot. But he was history. That's business. You don't look back.

Still, nerves were a little raw. What would the new reporting structure look like? Would he be cute? Ugly? Too hard to train? Might he prove to be too large for our space, or inappropriately small for players of our magnitude? Would he be friendly only to some and vicious to others? Would he love us? Could we love him back?

And then, one day, he came. He was small when he first popped out, our new reporting structure, kind of naked and skinny, with just a little dusting of peach fuzz all over him. But even though you could see he had a long way to go before he could walk and run and frolic in the sun at expensive retreats from Vail to Sanibel, you had to love watching him on the day he opened his big, liquid eyes and tried to stand, flopping all over himself and bonking his head on the marble table in the boardroom.

"Adorable little thing," said Morgenstern. But he was always easy.

It wasn't long before our new reporting structure found his legs, got his bearings, lost his baby coat, and filled in a bit. It was quite clear from the beginning that he was Walt's reporting structure, that Walt was his master, nobody else. You know, they say that after a time, senior managers begin to look exactly like their reporting structures. It sounds weird, but I've always found this to be true. So naturally this one turned out to be essentially kind--except when you got his back up.

The first thing our new reporting structure did was that he got loose and ate Finster. I'm not sure when it actually happened, but one day Finster was there and the next, he just wasn't. There wasn't even a grease spot where the boy had been--and he was big! New reporting structures are hungry. You can't get around that.

Don't get me wrong. At heart he was a gentle, loving reporting structure. Right away he made fast friends with some of us, snuggling up on long winter nights, making us feel comfortable in the new operating environment, making sure our compensation was up to snuff, patrolling the perimeters of our operating areas. I don't know about the other guys, but after a while I started feeling he was my reporting structure as much as he was Walt's. Actually, I guess he belonged to all of us by then.

After a while, none of us went anywhere without him. If we were going on a trip to Pebble or Telluride, we took him along. He kind of hung out in our rooms, loitering in the general vicinity at evening banquets, stealing bits of steak from tables when we weren't looking. When we grew leaden, there he was, warm and furry, reminding us that while this might look like a serious discussion of margin improvements, hey, we were all there to play with the ball, weren't we?

And we did, as long as he was around.

Here, for the record, is whom he belonged to, or who belonged to him, depending on how you look at it: Morgenstern, our general counsel, sharp, imperious, the master of the discursive instructional disquisition; Burbage in Finance, straightforward, optimistic, a man who could see the bright side of a tornado while sitting in a dark storm cellar; Rafferty, grouchy, truculent, ever ready to punish the fool and rain contempt on anyone who could not himself polish off a 48-ounce T-bone without ralphing. There was Kleindienst, the manager/philosopher, pragmatic, thoughtful, witty, who never refrained from poking your bald spot when he walked behind you at a meeting; Marsh, the road warrior, clear thinker, genial pal, with a white-hot hatred of red tape, black tie, and golf; big, gentle Weitz, who had quietly grown his business at the rate of 20% a year without fanfare and without bragging about it once--Weitz, who was always interested in one more way to serve customers better and recognize outstanding employees. And Bannerman, whose business didn't always go so well, who began every meeting crisp as a corn flake and ended it draped in his chair exhausted with his shirttail hanging out and a small Diet Pepsi stain on the end of his tie. And me. I was the one with the funny hat on.

Presiding above it all was Dad. Excuse me, I didn't mean to say Dad. I meant to say Walt. Walt, from whom all blessings flowed, and not just material ones, mind you. Blessings like...long meetings jawing about the future of the cosmos--a future that actually came to pass, God help us...trips to places far from home where big ideas and superb food had to be digested before we could return to our normal lives...mornings sitting with coffee one on one, plotting, scheming, trading paranoid scenarios until it was time to do some real work. Then there were the times, late at night, when we were all wrung limp by one of those ten-hour periods that encompassed six separate gatherings and, maybe, 200 phone calls each, and I'd look up to see Walt in my doorway in his trench coat looking glazed, completely all in, staring into the middle distance at all the things that had to be done tomorrow. "Time to go home, Omar," Walt would say. And so I would.

Then, eight months ago, we got into this merger thing. It was good for all of us, no question about it. But it wasn't good for our reporting structure. At the beginning we kidded ourselves, told ourselves the poor old fellow could survive this kind of sea change without a scratch on his pelt. We should have known better. Some things clearly cannot last, even in an atmosphere of positive transformation.

It soon became obvious he was waning. It could have been my imagination, but it appeared he was losing hair. He would sleep a great deal during meetings, which consequently became vague and tedious. One morning around Thanksgiving, I came in to find him panting and wheezing in the corridor outside our small conference room, sort of lying on his side with his eyes rolling in his head. None of us really knew what to do. One by one, we gathered around his little body, kind of held on to it by the paw for a while, talked to him, tried to make him feel better. But it was no go. At Christmastime, we bundled him up in a big tartan blanket and hauled him to at least three separate parties, including our traditional gathering with spouses at a remote location. He perked up a bit then and I was sure I could see a tiny, warm spark in his eye where before was only a lump of frozen, soggy coal. But it was short-lived.

On January 2, I found our old reporting structure in the lobby on the 37th floor, where he had seen some of his best days. He was dying. It's hard to believe, but sometime between Christmas and New Year's, we had all departed to be with our families, and nobody had left him any food or water or anything. We all felt terrible about it. We collected in my office and laid him out on my couch and just sat there together for a while. But then it occurred to us that we all had a lot of work to do in the new operating environment, and sometime during the morning, while we were all out and about, he passed on. I returned to my office around noon to get my coat to go over to our new offices across town, and there he was, with his tongue sort of hanging out, all stiff and cold. I'm sorry he died alone. I guess in some sense, though, we all do.

There was really nothing to be done about it, I figure. Most of us outlive our reporting structures, and that's no reason not to love them when they're with you. Still, it's hard. I can look at old documentation to bring him back into my mind's eye for a while. But I already feel him slipping away into corporate memory, which, as you well know, is brutally brief. To the business mind, breakfast was last year. Today is almost yesterday. Pretty soon I know I'll have a new reporting structure. And I'll love that one too. It's hard not to once you've got one, no matter how ugly it turns out to be, or how badly it behaves.

Even so, this one was something special. I know that. For a brief time, I was lucky to share my life with a reporting structure of particular distinction, power, and beauty. I don't guess I'll have another chance to say it, so I'll do so now: Guys, I know we'll always be pals. I hope we'll always be real friends too. And if there's any reality at all to the dreams and fantasies by which we operate in this ersatz family we call business, I hope we will, on some very specious level, always be brothers. We had fun. We built value. When we think back on this chapter of our lives, may we always be aware of some very special buzz that still resonates inside us. It's been great, in other words. May the road rise up to meet you, and may your new reporting structures be as kind to you as our old one was to us. Be good. But not too good.

See ya round the ranch, fellas.

By day, Stanley Bing is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name.