As many of you know, Jim Gray has been missing at sea since January 28th, 2007. Jim went on a day sail out from San Francisco and has not been seen since. The search for Jim both over water and underwater has been one of the largest in history and, at the time of this writing, there is no evidence as to what has happened to cause Jim’s disappearance.
First, I would like to say that Jim has been one of my dearest friends since I met him when I started working at Tandem Computers in July of 1982. He has been my mentor for 25 years and no one has had a bigger and more positive influence on my career and, in very many ways, on all of my life. He not only has been my mentor, he has taught me to BE a mentor.
Since we have no evidence of what happened to Jim in late January, he is officially a missing person and will remain so for five years according to California state law. This is an indescribably difficult position for his family… no explanation, no resolution, no closure. Donna is still legally Jim’s wife and will remain so until there is resolution and in the in absence of further information, that happens 5 years after Jim’s disappearance at sea. With out regard to anyone’s opinion about the probabilities of seeing Jim again, we need to respect the fact that his status is that of a missing person.
Jim disappeared at the very end of January and, even while the searching was ongoing in early February, there was a rush by many to hold memorials for Jim who is so loved by so many. Yet, the response was “We’re still looking for him!!! It’s not right to give up!!!” Tremendous effort was invested in trying to locate Jim’s boat Tenacious above water and it was weeks before this effort was abandoned. Still, there was a desire to hold a memorial and that was not appropriate without evidence of where Jim is. Basically, few have had a clear picture of what to do to honor Jim. It is inconceivable to let someone loved and respected as much as Jim go without acknowledgement and yet, given the confusing circumstances, we have had challenges knowing what to do. So the months have gone by without any gathering.
As I’ve talked to Jim’s wife, Donna, and read a bit more, it has become clearer to me the difficulty. A memorial is inappropriate because Jim is not a deceased person. While we can all speculate, we do not know and speculation is not helpful. A memorial cannot be held while Jim is a missing person. Similarly, it is inappropriate to refer to Jim in the past tense since, to the best of our knowledge, he is alive and his status is missing. It IS appropriate to hold a “tribute” to Jim’s life and works but in doing so, we need to refer to Jim in the present tense.
After the initial shock of Jim’s disappearance, it fell to me and some other friends to push forward the plans for the biannual HPTS Workshop (held October 7th-10th) that Jim helped found and that he has been such a seminal part of running. The spirit of the workshop is largely derived from Jim’s influence. We, the attendees of HPTS, simply needed to express our love for him. I immediately asked for the job of planning and running the Tribute to Jim and it weighed heavily on my mind for about six months. It seemed every day or two I would spend five minutes or even fifteen minutes of quiet time rehearsing in my head the phraseology of something I wanted to say… how to capture Jim’s joy for life, his generosity, his clarity of thought and explanation, his ways of imparting wisdom. He is my mentor and has changed me SO much and I was uncharacteristically very nervous about what to say since Jim means so very much to me.
In the end, I decided to let Jim and Jim’s presence be the backbone for the Tribute. After dinner on Tuesday, we gathered in the meeting room and I gave a brief introduction about Jim’s status and the reasons for holding a tribute and not a memorial. Then, I played a video of an interview with Jim done in December of 2005 for the Microsoft produced show “Behind the Code”. That 60 minute video can watched here. The room was quiet and smiling as we all enjoyed a dose of the Jim we love… while there was some sadness, there was a lot of the sense that we have been so privileged to have Jim so much a part of our lives. It felt very good.
After the video, we took turns sharing stories of some of our experiences with Jim. I tried to start with one that was funny to allow everyone to know that we can share all kinds of memories of our times with Jim as we pay him honor. Some of the stories where hilarious!! We laughed a lot and cried a little. At the end, I wrapped it up by talking about how Jim’s work and love carries on in all of us in spite of his disappearance. The HPTS workshop remains for others of us to advance and continue as a way of promoting our corner of the technology world and we will ensure its continuity.
I sure do love my friend, Jim. I sure do miss him.