A Tribute to

Yuri Rubinsky

August 2, 1952
January 21st, 1996
A prayer about prayer

The SGML community and the Web community were stunned by the news of the untimely death of Yuri Rubinsky on Sunday, January 21, 1996. Charles Goldfarb, the inventor of SGML, said of Yuri "His life was half a life long, but it was four lives wide, and eight deep." Indeed, he had more energy, more enthusiasm, more humor, and more compassion than most roomfulls of people. He infected those around him with these qualities, and the result was often consensus where there had been contention, common purpose where there had been self interest.

Yuri brought leadership of a very special character to the communities in which he worked. He was a talented businessman who helped spark the growth of a burgeoning industry and a successful company, and he did it in a way that benefited the entire community. Yuri was a prominent exemplar of the philosophy that success flows naturally from helping others to achieve their goals.

One of the stories told by his coworker, Bill Clarke, was of Yuri at a presentation to investors, at a time when SoftQuad was struggling financially. Yuri waxed eloquent and enthusiastic about a new product that Softquad was introducing, and he easily convinced the investors of its merits. Pens lifted, they were ready to sign, but Yuri would have none of it... "Wait, Wait! That's not all! There's more!" He wanted more than their signatures, more than their investment, he wanted their understanding, he wanted them to know the significance of the "quiet revolution" of SGML. This was his passion... to share its power so that "what ought to be done, can be done."

His efforts on behalf of the visually impaired are a wonderful example of his passion to do what ought to be done. His work on behalf of the International Committee on Accessible Document Design (ICADD) has helped establish a reasonable expectation that modern computer technology can serve the sightless as well as the rest of us. The Web has the foundations for implementation of the ICADD technology largely due to his efforts. Many who will never know his name will be able to participate in the Web Revolution because of Yuri's tenacious promotion of these standards. Yuri took great delight in the fact that ICADD standards made it possible for the book he co-authored with Marc Giacomelli (Christopher Columbus Answers All Charges) to be available in its braille edition prior to being available in print.

His work in the World Wide Web community is well illustrated in his spearheading of the award given to Doug Englebart at the Boston World Wide Web conference December of 1995. Yuri not only conceived the award, but funded it with a $US 10,000 contribution from SoftQuad. This in itself was an exceptional and generous act, but he went to the further (and substantial) effort of assembling (in consultation with Englebart's daughter) selected historic writings of Englebart's into a booklet that commemorates this early and seminal contribution to hypertext systems. Few would have gone the extra mile that Yuri did, and as with everything he did, his energy and enthusiasm made it seem the only natural thing to have done.

It is disheartening to consider the enormity of the loss of Yuri's leadership in the text markup and the Web communities. There is no one else like him. For those fortunate enough to have shared his companionship, there is, as well, the heavy sadness of the loss of a friend and compatriot. One of Yuri's close friends, Quentin Yardley, said of Yuri, "He could turn a walk into a parade" For those who had the good fortune to walk in his parades, the cadence and music of his life will not fade...

"Wait, Wait! That's not all! There's more!"

Stuart Weibel
January 29, 1996