One year after Steve Jobs died, columnist shares his moving tribute to Apple founder that never ran

Apple’s Steve Jobs died a year ago today and so naturally there will be memories, memorials and retrospectives.  Apple has mounted a tribute on its website. There are blog posts and news stories galore, here, here and here.

The occasion reminded me of a column I wrote the day Jobs died. It never made it into the Mercury News, so I thought I would post it here today.

Steve Jobs: Feb. 24, 1955 to Oct. 5, 2011

The millions of words that will be written, tweeted, tech-crunched, mashed and e-mailed about the death of Steve Jobs won’t come close to speaking as loudly as the scene outside the Apple co-founder’s house the day he died.

A mother led her small child to the edge of Jobs’ front yard so the child could place a flower on the ground in memory of the man who helped change the way that child will grow up.

Silicon Valley was in mourning on Wednesday, which was quite a remarkable thing for a man who was not an entertainer, or politician, or athlete. He was not a man who moved others to overthrow oppressive regimes (with the possible exception of Microsoft back in the day). He did not preach a religion, no matter what those who annually attended Macworld might say. He did not broker peace treaties or stop famine or wipe out illiteracy.

In fact, he had a most unpleasant side that he would unleash on those he found unworthy.

And yet, we loved him.

It was evident from the small crowd that gathered outside Job’s house in the evening after word of his death. A security guard, who was not at liberty to say much, said the hearse had already left and yet neighbors and others stood in vigil. It was evident from the outpouring on Twitter and Facebook.

This wasn’t the sense of loss that accompanies the passing of a brilliant businessman, though Jobs surely was that. This was deeper. Millions, arguably more, around the world felt they knew Jobs personally. In that sense, Apple’s products were the ultimate in personal technology. For years, users have forged deep bonds with their iMacs, iPods, iPhones. To say many consumers loved the products was not much of a stretch. And where did the products come from?


And who was Apple?

Steve Jobs.

Jobs famously berated engineers who did not live up to his standards. He motivated through fear.

“You know someone, to run a company, to make great products, has to do a lot of saying no to people,” Steve Wozniak, Job’s Apple co-founder and friend told me in June. “You have to be able to tell people, “This is not good enough. We’re looking for higher standards. We need better people.’ You’ve got to be willing to take some of those nasty stands.”

And yet he engendered long-lasting loyalty among those who knew him well, including Woz. The day he retired as CEO of Apple, a day that was something of a dress rehearsal for this day, some of those who were there near the beginning told me they did not want to talk about the man or his legacy. One said only, “I am very sad.” Jobs, a private man who ran a company cloaked in secrecy, would have hated having people talk about him and so they didn’t.

No question he had an endearing side as well. After a column I wrote about Job’s stepping down, Robert Wright wrote to me to tell me about the time he was a young Silicon Valley teacher helping students edit videos on a Macbook. Wright knocked over a cup of coffee, which spilled all over the machine. It was dead. He couldn’t afford the $2,700 to replace it. So he sent an e-mail to Steve Jobs.

“To my surprise, a couple of days later I received a phone call from Cupertino: ‘Send it in. We’ll replace it.”

He did and Apple did. The video project was saved.

“The fact is, I got a new computer in the mail, a computer I needed but couldn’t afford, and though this happened years ago, it still amazes the heck out of me.”

It’s what Jobs did and why his death comes with an outsized sense of loss.

He amazed the heck out of us.



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  • Danby

    Please remind us what actually apple invented? They bought other technology and sold it with good marketing. So, what was invented? Tablet existed long before apple.

    • Jeff

      Apple’s success invented trolls like you who dazzlingly miss the entire point and opt-in to their own contrarian worldview. You must be a beta version.

    • Lila

      Steve Jobs was a ruthless, cruel, insensitive man. What was so special about him?

    • Dave

      The British didn’t invent the blues or rock ‘n’ roll either. Think about it.

    • bigfoot

      while I cannot confirm the veracity of your statement Danby, I do know that it was Job’s vision and acute sense to fashion and form that inspired a transformation in the tech industry. from spending time to find the perfect font to completely changing the way phones and music players look and behave. anyone can take a piece of clay and turn it into something but jobs took that piece of clay and not only molded a beautiful functioning machine, but inspired millions to create new ways of molding the clay altogether.

    • Bob Sanders

      Have some remorse man. Its not about inventions and patents its about getting the technology to people.

      I was deeply moved by watching this tribute.

      I am amazed at the 80 year old senior at the local library who wanted to learn everything about iPad and get the knowledge experience in his ripe old years.

      I look at a child who is barely two and knows that you can pinch and expand your fingers to make the picture larger and tries that on a home TV hanging on a wall !

      Steve and Apple enabled technology to reach people.

      Cheers and Regards,

    • Jerry

      Read “Zen and the Art of Archery.” The samurai did not invent the bow, but the Zen archer achieved a level of simple beauty and excellence that few others have even neared. Listen to the apple video for the Jobs quote about the marriage of technology, liberal arts and the humanities. Apple invented none of them, but for the marriage of the three (and more).

    • Rob

      A non-exhaustive list of Apple inventions:

      Firewire (still in use, though not on iPods anymore)
      Palmtop computing with a touch/stylus interface (e.g., Newton messagepad)
      Overlapping windows in the UI (the Xerox Alto and early versions of MS Windows had tiled windows)
      Appletalk (easy networking back when Ethernet was esoteric and not cheap)
      Inexpensive networked laser printing with a real PostScript engine (the Apple LaserWriter) — this is what gave desktop publishing its start.
      Various manufacturing techniques for their new aluminum MacBook lines and portable devices… these are numerous and subject to patents.
      Numerous UI innovations (e.g. “piles,” which were later dubbed Stacks under OS X)
      Apple holds several multi-touch gesture patents. Many are non-obvious.
      I seem to recall there was an innovative video controller chip in the Apple II that was pretty clever — Woz’s design, I am almost positive.

      • And HyperCard, MacPaint, QuickDraw,
        all cooked up by the really-bright Bill Atkinson, to name a few.

  • Mark

    Hey Danby….Apple invented the use of technology to match the inventions of ones imagination. It’s the model T related to the Bugatti Veyron. It’s the ability to make technology simple and accessible to everyone who did not need to be a tech geek to apply, operate, or indeed repair. It is in developing products using existing technology in ways other people had not either envisioned or created a use for in a way that made them a daily part of the lives of the masses. To do this and market it in a way that people put aside the relatively high cost to such an extent that Apple has become the largest company in history is an accomplishment that can’t be denied. Apple products just work (yes I know some examples of not working as promised exist…antenna-gate, IOS6 maps etc.) but the truth is people buy them because they like the way they look feel and work, the way they can integrate them into their live in a way that meets their needs. Sure a person can find other brands and products that ‘do the same thing’ and if you can’t afford Apple then by all means buy them but don’t condemn people for buying what they are free to purchase and act as if you are an arbiter of how duped they must be simply because you do not “get it” 🙂

  • David P. Graf

    “We loved him.” – not everyone. 🙂

  • sera

    Like this article stated jobs didn’t do anything humanitarian and really who is to say apple products are actually making our lives better I personally will never buy or support his products I’m sorry for those that loved him but his character isn’t one be celebrated foolish capitalism missing what matters again

  • wes

    Granted, Apple is a great company producing a nice line of consumer products, along with a smaller, but valued line of professional gear. Likewise, Steve Jobs was an excellent executive who was responsible, to a great degree, for Apple’s dominance in the marketplace. However, by most accounts, the man himself was an unpleasant ogre of a person with few of the human traits that bring one to miss a friend when they are gone. If we value a human being by his career success, then Mr. Jobs was indeed deserving of all the accolades we can give. However, most of us would aspire to be remembered for who we were as human beings and not for the stuff we were able to produce. I, for one, would much rather be missed than admired. Other than stockholders in Apple, not many people miss Steve Jobs.