Today my friend George Brett died. He was 67.
I want to write about him now.
George inspired and taught me with every conversation. He had a gift for looking hard at people, weighing them to see what they needed, then quietly presenting a dollop of idea, a germ for a mental revolution, a glimpse of a vista to behold.
In 2010 I took a photo of him reading aloud at home, and with his last name lurking on a bookshelf beyond. This is him feeding my hungry brain:
His face shows him thrust deeply into the book, wringing from it a tale and words to bring back and share, dripping in the daylight.
But a few seconds later I saw this through my camera, too, a subtly different view:
Here you can see through his shoulders and chest a deep strength, not often obvious from a man of such rich gentleness and delicacy. This is a man who persisted, who always pushed through into the future beyond where most people could think. Sitting down to talk with George or exchanging digits in cyberspace was like grabbing the attention of a well-seasoned time traveler or astronaut.
I like to think of him in that strong mode now, before a vicious pack of biological evils fell upon him and gradually hauled him from life.
George’s mind was a glorious whirl, always in advance. Videoconferencing, the 1960s, visualization technologies and techniques, wikis, concept mapping, the deep spirit of hypertext, the nuances of virtual communities, politics, ebooks, Internet2, learning, teaching – talking with him was like being a student again, hanging out with the best professor you could hope for.
And he was always playful, with a grand sense of fun and devious, even dry wit. When I first met him he spelled his name “geORge”, which is awesome.
And he was always there with caring and generosity. You could see this in his family, whom he loved so deeply, and who adored him in return. They were with him right through the end. Singing.
George made all kinds of time for me, no matter where we were, in person or online. He talked me out of many dark moments, from frustration to depression. He kindly tugged me along, showing me ways forward that weren’t so bitter. Again, always with gentleness and wisdom. I can see him now over a meal, walking the streets of DC, in a video chat box, in a conference hotel ballroom, listening and thinking.
I didn’t return the favor like I should have. George was a creative master of fabric art, a field I never appreciated. His digital work took him far into networking technology and I never followed him there, which was foolish of me. He was present at times when I didn’t connect with him, which was my own damn fault. Nineteen years separates our ages, and I wasn’t good about trying to cross that generational gap.
All of these failings are so clear to me now, now that it’s too late to repair them.
George knew so much. And gave it all right back to the world, smiling, even when the world didn’t get it.
I’ve never met such a soul.
I don’t think I’ll know his like again. I miss him far more than I can write in this miserable blog post. I can’t revise this any more.
Rest in peace, my dear, dear friend.