SGML: Memory of Yuri Rubinsky (1952-1996)

SGML: Memory of Yuri Rubinsky (1952-1996)

Article: 12415 of comp.text.sgml
Newsgroups: comp.text.sgml
Date: Thu, 1 Feb 1996 03:43:25 +0100
From: (Francois Chahuneau)
Message-ID: <>
Subject: Yuri Rubinsky -- "Salut mon vieux!"

Yuri Rubinsky -- "Salut mon vieux!"

Yuri had got into this habit of identifying himself with this French idiom
every time he was calling me on the phone. It was some sort of private
joke.  He would never tell his name.  He would simply say "Salut mon
vieux!"  -- with this subtly mixed English/Canadian French accent which
characterizes Ontarians --, and then pause for a while, maliciously
observing how long it would take me to figure out who was calling. And of
course, I would recognize him almost immediately.

Yuri was able to speak French quite fluently, and had a special attachement
for France, where he had some family, and travelled quite often. I don't
know whether this was related, but I can attest that he played a major role
in development of SGML in France, both directly and indirectly.

I remember exactly when I met Yuri for the first time: that was on June 10,
1988, and I remember this day for very personal reasons. As Michel
Biezunski recently recalled, this was the first significant gathering of
the French professional publishing community around an SGML
presentation. This seminar was organized by Dominique Vignaud -- who
happens to be my wife --, under the auspices of the Syndicat National de
l'Edition for which she was conducting an "SGML opportunity study". Yuri
had been invited to technically chair the meeting and give an Author/Editor

It was not easy, at this time, to grasp a high-level view of what SGML was,
or could be. Everything was dominated by the "syntactic view", markup
minimization issues and character entity set definitions.  To many people,
the connection with the general concept of structured documents was still
unclear. Personnaly, I was still trying to understand what SGML was, and
whether it was interesting at all.

Yuri had a vision of SGML. A very clear one. Buts the most amazing think
was how efficiently he was able to communicate this vision to others. He
had come the day before to prepare the meeting with Dominique, and after
they had been working together all day --Yuri explaining so many things and
showing so many tricks on a Macintosh--, I rememember she was very excited
and kept saying "I think I understood SGML!".

The seminar itself was quite illuminating. I distinctly remember Yuri
starting his talk with one of his metaphoric tricks, showing a toothpaste
tube out of his pocket and saying "SGML is like toothpaste..." but I do not
remember the end of the joke, because I got so much captivated by the ideas
behind the metaphors and the vision which was slowly emerging out of Yuri's

At the end, anyway, I had decided that SGML *was* interesting, enough,
maybe, to make it my main focus for a while. This while lasted eight years
so far...

Interestingly, several other attendees of this primal meeting -- such as
Michel-- who had met for the first time at this occasion, seem to have been
influenced in a similar way. Enough to become the group of people behind
the development of SGML in France.

What I do not remember, though, is how many times I met Yuri since. It
looks like he was always there, at any conference, at any exhibition, at
any occasion. Was it in France? Or somewhere else in Europe, or North
America? I do not remember, because all these events were fusioned into
some sort of continuity. We would be starting a discussion at some meeting,
and continue it at the next one, a few weeks or months later, at another

But, always, he was greeting me with his cheerful "Salut mon vieux"!

Now, it's probably my turn to say it.

But not so cheerfully, I'm afraid...