I don’t know how to start this letter. I was devastated by the news. I could not bear to email, call, or send you a card – I felt the need to wait until I had the time and mental space to write you. Please excuse the resulting tardiness. My heart goes out to you and your loss, as I mourn the loss of a dear mentor and friend myself. I hope that you have found the support of family and friends, and that you find solace in learning how much Tim was loved and respected by so many people.
I don’t know what words to offer you. The best I can do is share my Tim story.
When I first started working with Tim, I found him rather cool and standoffish. I was concerned – he was supposed to be working with me, but he just didn’t seem very open to the idea. I spoke with my boss and my boss’s boss (Abbot), and was reassured that it wasn’t me. Yes, Tim can be hard to connect with at first, but give it time. He’ll come around. I thought I would take the approach of communicating from my side – I kept him posted on my activities by email, and in person. He was not an easy person to win over. Gradually, he began to respond to the emails and provide feedback and ideas. He brought me into discussions with designers and engineers. I was impressed at his ability to draw out ideas and act on them. He showed me that good ideas come from bright people – regardless of designated role.
As Tim got to know me, and I him, he began to bounce his own ideas off of me, and bring me into planning and evaluation meetings. At this point, he really became a mentor to me. He intuitively knew how to encourage me to extend my experience, without ever feeling pushed. He demonstrated enormous faith in me by allowing me to present my ideas and concerns in high-profile meetings. When I would go astray, he would not step in and take over, as so many subsequent managers do, but wait until after the meeting and privately tell me what considerations I might want to take into account in the future. For a while, we had adjoining cubes and he could hear my phone conversations with partners. When he heard me going down the wrong path, he would IM me with suggestions to get back on track. It was a great system.
I was always surprised when he had praise for me. I was awed that a man as smart and experienced as he was actually saw potential in me. Somehow I never could quite fit Tim’s picture of me with my own view of myself.
The Cynical Optimist
AltaVista was a new scene. While Tim continued to be an incredible mentor to me, we began to take on slightly different, complimentary roles. He loved the tabloid headlines, the calls to action, the up-to-the-second news coverage, and the resulting page-view numbers. I liked long-term planning, working with designers and engineers. The Webster project was an incredible experience for me because Tim really let me take the idea and run with it. I learned more from that experience than I have learned from any other project in my career thus far. Tim really showed me that revenue and value for the user/customer/audience can co-exist. This is a model I continue to strive for. I always felt that I was a cynical optimist – highly skeptical of motives and declared objectives, yet, ultimately believing that people were essentially good and that everything would work out in the end. Or at least there was that possibility. Tim was a bit more extreme in his views. He was not skeptical of motives, he was down-right suspicious. (I always credited this to his background in journalism.) Yet somehow, amazingly, he really believed that the Good Guys, or Good Ideas, or Good Intentions would win. I guess he taught me that I could watch my back without sacrificing my spirit.
Friend and, once again, Mentor
I am sorry that Tim and I did not have a chance to work together again after AltaVista. I know I could have learned so much more from him in the workplace. Certainly, subsequent bosses could never come close to filling his shoes. I am thankful, however, that we were able to maintain a friendship – with the both of you. Outside of work, I looked to Tim for advice on personal grounds, which he doled out in careful measures, according to what he thought I should hear. I knew that there was always plenty he chose not to divulge. Tom and I have really admired your relationship, the way you embraced and respected each other for your differences while pursuing common goals. It was always a pleasure to be in your presence and sense the warmth between the two of you. We took inspiration from your approach to your relationship that did not sacrifice romance for rationality, or vise versa.
Jan, since October 8, when Tom and I read the email from Jamie Hammond, our thoughts and concerns have been with you. Selfishly, I will miss Tim for my own reasons – for the advice he never gave me, and the storied I never got to hear. I will miss his stoicism and enthusiasm. I also, again selfishly, mourn the loss of one of my biggest advocates. One does not get many champions in life. He helped me see possibilities for myself, and that is a gift beyond value.
While this letter is mine, I also want to pass along Tom’s sentiments. He admired Tim greatly. More than Tim knew, I think. Tom enjoyed getting closer to both Tim and you over the past couple of years. I hope and expect that you will continue to be part of our lives. Our home is always open to you. Please let me know if we can be of assistance now, or at any point in the future.
I am so sorry that we could not come to the funeral. I understand that a scholarship fund has been set up in Tim’s name. I have the address and will be sending a contribution shortly.
Much love to you,