SGML: Memory of Yuri Rubinsky (1952-1996)

SGML: Memory of Yuri Rubinsky (1952-1996)

[Via CTS Digest, (c) Erik Naggum]
Article: 12375 of comp.text.sgml
Newsgroups: comp.text.sgml
From: (Marcy Thompson)
Subject: Yuri Rubinsky
Message-ID: <>
Organization: NETCOM On-line Communication Services (408 261-4700 guest)
Date: Tue, 30 Jan 1996 01:02:08 GMT

In trying to come to terms with Yuri's death, I continually flip
back and forth between trying to understand the full impact of
his loss to the SGML community and mourning the loss of a friend
and a mentor.

Yuri hired me to work at SoftQuad when I knew no SGML and gave me
the opportunity to work on some outstanding projects. He decided
in 1992 that SoftQuad had, as he put it, kept me to itself long
enough, and started arranging for me to appear on conference
programs. My professional life is a gift from Yuri that I treasure
more than he could possibly know.

In addition to mundane things like paychecks and projects, Yuri
was generous enough to share with me his vision of what SGML could
mean to the world and wise enough to applaud when I transmuted that
vision a little bit to make it my own.

Yuri lived three times as fast as any of the rest of us and he took
such great joy in everything he did that spending time with him, whether
working on a customer project, polishing a talk or just flying across
an ocean always left me energized and happy. (I remember an end-of-the-day
flight from Toronto to London that was so filled with ideas, word games
-- what *is* the shortest word that has the letters SGML in that order,
he wondered, which question I like to think led to the name HoTMetaL --
and when they announced our arrival, it seemed like we'd been on the plane
for 2 hours, not seven -- and mind you, this was in seats very far back
in a completely full plane, center section.)

He had the gift of being able to store up memories of people and be able to
pull them out in patterns; he always knew who needed to talk to whom,
and he could arrange it. Yuri was the most prolific generator of good
ideas I've ever known. Some of them changed the world (like the ICADD
work), and all of them were completely non-obvious before he thought
of them and stunningly obvious afterwards.

Other people have written eloquently in this forum of his professional
accomplishments. I, too, feel that we have lost a beacon in our industry,
but more than that, we've lost a source of joy and laughter and fun.

But I want to share only two specific memories. The first epitomizes for
me how he was always present in the moment. The last time I saw Yuri while
I still worked for SoftQuad, he was visiting the BC office; he had asked
me to bring my cat to the office that day, and she, catlike, had retreated
under the corner of my desk. I came back to my office from an errand to 
find Yuri, coatless, and sprawled on the floor on his stomach, his legs
sticking out from under my desk, petting a purring cat, and looking as
happy as she did. Then he leapt up, put on his coat and reverted to
being the President of SoftQuad.

The other memory is more about what he meant as a catalyst than anything
else. Last summer at the HyTime conference, he was speaking in a session
when he suddenly said the words that will always remind me of him: "I
have an idea!" He described the idea, and invited those who found it
interesting to join him at lunch that day. Fifteen or so people wanted to
pursue this idea, and the hotel had its tables set on tens. Over the
initial objections of the waitstaff, Yuri charmed them into fitting us 
all at a single table. Then he looked around the table and said "I've 
had the very great pleasure of working personally with everyone at this 
table, but I don't think you all know each other, so perhaps you ought to 
introduce yourselves."

Which of course we all did, but we were also sitting a little taller in 
each of our seats, because he was so clearly being honest when he said
it had been a pleasure. We had all been pleased to work with him in our
times and our ways, and it meant a lot to know he felt the same.

I was greatly moved by the funeral activities in Toronto this
weekend. It's clear that everyone who was touched by Yuri was also
changed by him, to be a little wiser, a little more joyful.

A light went out of the world when Yuri died. May those of us who were 
blessed by knowing him, working with him and loving him carry forward 
that light.

Marcy Thompson