SGML: Memory of Yuri Rubinsky (1952-1996)

SGML: Memory of Yuri Rubinsky (1952-1996)

Article: 12486 of comp.text.sgml
From: (James David Mason)
Newsgroups: comp.text.sgml
Subject: Yuri Rubinsky
Date: Wed, 7 Feb 1996 21:37:38 GMT
Organization: Convenor, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC18/WG8
Message-ID: <>

Reading through the outpouring of tributes to Yuri Rubinsky, I had a growing 
awareness that no one ever forgot a first encounter with him. And no one was 
ever quite the same after that encounter. 

I first met Yuri years ago at a conference center in snowy suburban 
Massachusetts. I already had an early beta copy of Author/Editor that I was 
experimenting with, but I had been startled when the conference organizers 
told me they were putting the founder of the company on the program with me. I 
kept wondering what sort of person this might be. He was certainly charming 
enough when we met, but then when I heard him speak, I thought, "This guy is 
formidable. If he carries through on half the ideas he has, SGML will never be 
the same." Of course, Yuri did carry through on his ideas, and the world of 
information has changed accordingly.

Yuri was rarely able to come to my ISO standards committee, but he seemed 
to be in all the other places I couldn't get to. I came to rely on him: I'd 
hear of some area of concern to my committee and ring him up. Often he'd have 
learned about the problem as soon as I had; he'd already be working on it. Or 
I'd hear that some project was starting and shortly afterwards learn that Yuri 
had managed to become its chairman. How many of us had grown comfortable 
feeling, "Yuri's there; everything's going to be fine"?

After my first encounter, I always looked forward to being on a program with 
Yuri. Part of the anticipation was wondering about the creative -- and always 
appropriate -- examples he'd come up with. Does anyone else remember the 
toothpaste tube?

Some years ago a Canadian business magazine published an article on Yuri. 
There was big photograph of Yuri in his office -- completely encircled by 
piles of papers, books, airline tickets, a keyboard, memos, GCA programs,  
(how did he ever get in and out of the place?), mostly related to SGML. I 
thought: "further certain evidence Yuri's a good guy; he has more clutter than 
even I can aspire to." But it was also evidence of the range of Yuri's 
activities. Although the focus of the article was on SoftQuad as a growing 
software house, Yuri saw to it that there was attention to the whole world of 
SGML and the goal of making information useful. In the article, one of his 
competitors observes: "Yuri Rubinsky is a wonderful man!" 

While Yuri was clearly interested in building SoftQuad's business, he was 
also concerned for the welfare of the competition. More than once I heard him 
express concern over a competitor who was not making so good a showing with a 
product as it deserved. SGML Open was another of those projects where I was 
glad to find Yuri in charge.

My last conversation with Yuri, though it was at SGML '95, wasn't about SGML 
but rather about his novel "Christopher Columbus Answers All Charges". His 
Columbus, unlike other authors', wasn't the new man of the Renaissance. 
Instead, this Columbus comes across as a thoroughly mediaeval character, still 
imbued with the educational and psychological strengths -- and limitations -- 
as well as the modes of expression of his peers at the end of the era just 
ending. That struck a chord with me, an old mediaevalist who has fallen into 
the world of computing. As I look back, I think what gave Yuri the ability to 
create such a Columbus (aside from patient research and careful crafting of 
words) was his ability to see into people and discover their inner structure. 
It was the same ability that supported Yuri's efforts in the many communities 
in which he moved and served.

But Yuri was not like his Columbus, still ensnared in old ways of thinking and 
acting. Yuri was a man of the new world, always inventing new approaches. So 
let us indeed remember him as the Renaissance Man of Information.

Dr. James D. Mason
(ISO/IEC JTC1/SC18/WG8 Convenor)
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Information Management Services
Bldg. 2506, M.S. 6302, P.O. Box 2008
Oak Ridge, TN  37831-6302   U.S.A.
Telephone: +1 615 574-6973
Facsimile:  +1 615 574-6983