Fond Stories Over Coffee: The Passing of a Friend

On Friday, November 2nd, 2007, our friend and colleague, Rob Carpenter, passed away suddenly. He was an incredible man, father and friend. His work with pre-testing and validation of new technologies for the Intel data centers will continue to live on. In fact, he had just filmed a follow-up video blog on the Wednesday before his passing. With the permission of his family, we have posted the video He was passionate about his work and sharing his knowledge with others.

It may be out of the ordinary for one to find eulogies in a community sharing IT best practices, but Rob was and is a part of our community....the fabric of who we are. In honor and memory of Rob, I am republishing, with permission, some stories from his son Justin. Rob didn't want a formal memorial service, instead he requested that he be remembered with "fond stories over coffee with friends." Grab a cup of coffee.......

"My earliest clear memories of him are from the early days of his private law practice, and his postdoctorate work in applied mathematics on the side, in his early thirties. He was just as amazing then, brilliant, twenty years ahead of his market (already thinking about standardization of computer networks and how one scheduled protocols in a protocol-heterogeneous environment where "pipe is pipe and traffic is traffic," before many families even had microcomputers), His excitement and sincere enthusiasm was infectious, his integrity was already the stuff of legend, and he was never content to rest his mind.

Even at the time of his death, he was working on numerous projects with Intel, and at the same time, teaching a course at Berkeley's College of Divinity School of the Pacific in Benedictine contemplative meditation, serving as a volunteer subject matter expert in HAM and emergency radio technology, applying to be an oblate (layman participant in a Christian monastary, often part-time on weekends), avidly pursuing semi-professional photography as a hobby and passion, beginning to pen a second book unifying Christianity and Buddhism meditative traditions, and regularly conversing with me about my in-progress graduate work in the epistemology of mathematics. He never needed to read the texts I read; he simply asked for a two-sentence summary of their arguments, and could immediately form better arguments than the authors themselves.

When I was four years old, I asked him what he was teaching in the evenings to take him away from Mom and I during cartoon time in the evenings, and he explained that it was applied math for physics. I blinked, and said with a mumble that I didn't think I could do anything that hard, and he looked very surprised, sat me down at the dining room table, and proceeded to teach me algebra, basic trigonometry and the principles of calculus in two amazing hours. We started doing lessons instead of after-dinner TV, and by the end of the semester, he gave me one of the tests (no doubt simplified a bit) from his class. I passed it (with I believe an 89), and he said to me very seriously, "Justin, NEVER say that you can't do something that seems hard. You can do just about anything if you really try. I want you to promise me that you're not going to avoid doing things that look hard at first." I promised him that I wouldn't, and I find myself repeating that promise often, as the many grim realities of the current situation set in.

His courage was amazing. During early 1995, our family was under a standing death threat from two different crime syndicates due to my father's diligence as district attorney in prosecuting the people responsible for drug trafficking to New York through a Palenville airstrip. He never showed stress, never changed his routine beyond asking for a police escort at times. He'd sit calmly, albeit away from windows, with his ubiquitous glass of caffeine-free Diet Coke, and conversed with us from a room away. The conversations were like any other evening, just a little louder.

I learned yesterday, after speaking to some of his friends in law enforcement in New York, that the situation was much more serious than I ever realized, and that he had a strong reason to believe that his life was very much in danger that evening. As we sat and nibbled dinner in two rooms, our house was under armed guard. My mother and I never knew. You could never judge the severity of a problem by my father's composure, as it never faltered.

It has been difficult to explain to people why there is no memorial service or funeral planned. My father held a memorial service for my mother, but asked that he simply be cremated and scattered without ceremony. When I asked him about the needs of the living to gather and remember, he suggested that those who wished to remember him, as best I can remember the quote, "go out for coffee, or pie, or breakfast, and come together as the living in a moment of life." He explained that he did not want people in mourning clothes, with their eyes held low, listening to somber songs in a rented space -- that the way to remember life was by imitating life, not by entering the atmosphere and mood of death.

And so, there will not be one memorial service for my father, but many. There are moments of silence in Mt. Tremper where he attended the monastery, and a dinner in New York this weekend to toast, quote, "the finest district attorney the state has ever seen." There will be tears shared among his many friends at several Intel sites, and fond stories of him at the next Sierra Foothills ARC brunch. In Tampa, there has been a memorial every time I've opened my mouth to speak in the last five days.

There could be no one memorial large enough to encompass even most of the lives he touched, nor could even his closest fifty friends attend one, no matter where it was held. I considered holding one despite his wishes -- I am certain he would have understood the need of the living to mourn -- but I realized that his life was too big to bring into a room, or even a small concert hall. He had close, dear, personal friends in several countries and nearly every state, and every one of them was touched by his presence and would feel the need to be there. Robert Edmund Carpenter, the man so loved that his memorial service required an event space the size of the internet.

There will be many memorials, you see. Every time you and others sit and remember him to one another, tell stories about his life, be they funny or amazing, every time you remember something he told you, or share him as an example to others, you are celebrating his life. Every time there is pain, or better yet, a happy anecdote to share, we can come together and share it -- and you will hear, first- or second-hand, the anecdotes of others passed on for sharing.

This is, I think, why he wanted it this way. No one is left out, no one is "unable to make it," no one is forgotten, and the memorial takes as long as it needs to, for every story to be told, for everyone to be a part of it. When I think about it this way, I think he really had the right idea, and though I cannot imagine being even a pale shadow of the man he was, when I pass, I hope to be remembered the same way, through fond stories over coffee when I'm remembered now and then"