I say goodbye to Rick Doherty. A talented man and a great friend.
May 17, 2016
My friend Rick Doherty passed away. It is very difficult for me to share my memories of Rick. In my life he was more of a god than a human.
I met Rick in early Apple days. He was the editor of EE Times, and electrical engineering was my life. We would chat at technology shows. I was still very shy and it was hard for me to even chat with reporters, but Rick was real in his appreciation for things that I represented and was, than many who are more fake.
In the early 80’s I was a recently single dad and Rick had had his own young daughters. Rick was more than a journalist. He was a friend. I remember taking our youngsters in infant strollers to Disneyland. The rest of the world never gets inside how significant such a thing was.
Over the years we stayed in touch, regularly. I learned a lot about Rick in those times.. Rick never forgot about my family as it grew. We would meet and chat as friends at various technology events. Rick’s daughters Heather and Sabrina were always precious to him. Rick would always talk about their interest in science and technology.
In 1993 I was out in Washington, D.C., probably for the National Medal of Technology committee which I chaired at the time. I believe that on my recommendation Rick joined that committee after I left it. On this visit Rick had driven his new 1994 Prius down from New York and showed it to me. The 1994 Prius hybrid had been very much redesigned to be longer (with good rear seat legroom) and faster and more fuel efficient than the 1983 model and before. What caught my eye was how this car was so ‘technology’ oriented, with a display screen instead of normal car buttons and switches. I had never seen such a thing. It was ahead of its time to even have a bluetooth Bluetooth connection to your digital phone.
I had a fondness for the recent cars of my life. I like unusual things and had explored electric cars and hybrids. I had test driven some that were, frankly, dogs on the road. After that D.C. trip I took my family down to a Toyota dealer and test drove a Prius. It was zippy and roomy and techie and all. This was the car for me. I had driven a Hummer for some years but switched to the Prius. I wound up driving Prius’s for 10 years. It was the most useful car model of my life and never disappointed me in any way. I have Rick to thank for that.
I had some nice NSX sport cars in my life that I also loved. One day Rick surprised me with stories of the Cannonball Run and how he had won it one year. We talked for a long time and I learned how this [secret] coast to coast race was organized and how the entrants modified fast cars to have multiple fuel tanks (to avoid time-costly stops at gas stations) and how they carried many police radios and radar scanners. That one time Rick had a team in a Mercedes 6.9 and they won the race. But at one of the after-race assemblies the guy who gets credit for the Cannonball Run, Brock somebody, presented a charity with a check from the entry fees. Rick was stunned that the entry fees added up to something like $250K but only $25K was going to the charity. So Rick split off his own group and ran a competing coast-to-coast race for a number of years. Rick is was so moral and ethical that he had the entrants write their check directly to the charity. Rick would take none of it. Rick was like this with everything in life.
Rick lost his job at EE Times in an efficiency move. He had to scramble to find a new source of income. Rick decided that his knowledge of the technology industry, the players and the products and the companies and the strategies and new underlying materials and the like, was his importance. Rick started attending conferences and keynotes and recording them as best he could right up to his death. If I ever had a technology question involving products and state of the art, I would ask Rick for answers and advice. Every time Rick came to the Bay Area I would drive up to S.F. to have a coffee with him. Rick was my key to what was going on in the industry.
Rick formed Envisioneering to send out, daily newsletter style, important articles about the industry. Rick consulted with the very top leaders of companies including Intel and Apple. He was well respected by these CEO’s for his industry acumen and intelligence. Rick provided insight tot investors like Adam Grill, another person I respect as much as Rick himself. Rick never thought of specific technologies in terms of money but only in terms of the good they might do for society. Rick worked hard and made a good living but he would never deceive others to make money off them.
As Rick’s daughters grew, he involved them in his work. Rick was proud of their school achievements but he would take them to shows like CES so that they could spread out and cover more presentations. Rick always cared and spoke of science and technology education for girls, although he cared about it for everyone too. I learned that Rick had access to incredible electronics in NY shops on ‘Radio Row’ when he grew up. Rick followed every major science fair (Intel, Microsoft, government) with a keen interest. He included articles about the events and winners in his regular postings. For Rick, this was serious, not accidental. I wish at times I could be that good, but Rick saw my teaching of computers to 5th through 9th graders for 8 years of my life and appreciated that in me.
In one period of my life, I was lucky enough to be invited into cameo roles in a number of local high school musicals, as well as some community plays and voice-over work. Rick would fly out to see me perform. One time I was in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Rick came out and told of how when he was in high school he was not a social big-wig. Rick would make electronics projects and come in 2nd in science fairs only to Ray Kurzweil. But Rick tried out for the very same musical in his high school and got the lead role. I was totally stunned when, right in my house, Rick could break into singing the songs of that musical.
Rick’s broad upbringing came out at every single birthday or Christmas-time event from the time I knew him. Twice each year I would receive hand-written (later computer written) stories of his life that read like fairy tales. A young kid going to see magicians and music shows and shopping for, or crafting, X’mas Xmas gifts and being some. Every one of his stories was as good as the best movie you could ever see. Rick would sometimes write poetry. For the birthdays, Rick would usually have created some long poem that dealt with aspects of my own life and his appreciation came through. I could never be as creative is Rick, although both of us brought up our children in a direction to be creative and not just follow structure to success. In many aspects of my life, Rick influenced how I wanted to be. When I was on Dancing With The Stars I followed in Rick’s path and presented each other contestant, professional and celebrity, with a small bag of gifts (mostly a joke book). But in each one I included a 1 or 2-page letter handwritten by myself telling them why they were good people in my mind, having met them. They had to be hand-written, as I remember Rick often doing.
Rick had a sense of humor too. I once suggested that when speakers like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were on stage they used remote controls to sequence their slides. Rick knew that these were of 2 types, an IR one and a radio one. Rick had front row seating at keynotes, being a member of the press. So Rick got each type of control and managed to slightly frustrate each of those 2 speakers into giving up on their ‘clickers’ at events. As in the movie The Sting, the mark must not know that he was hustled. The mark must just think that something went wrong. The inspiration for this idea partly came from my TV Jammer experience where I could get people to modify their body positions into funny contortions. Rick was human enough to actually play pranks!
Every morning I had a 5am alarm clock (Pacific time) when dozens of tech news email would arrive from Rick. They were a very important part of my life. Less than a week ago I was wondering why they had not arrived one morning. Was Rick traveling and on a plane? The sad news about his demise came to me at a Jewel concert. It’s easy to comment on the passing of someone I know but this one is nearly impossible. There was so much to Rick’s life and our interactions for so many years. I’m stunned and saddened, despite always telling myself not to be in such cases. There is much much more than what I’ve put into this letter.
I will always remember Rick for the sort of person he was and how he was of the highest integrity and cared about normal people and end users and how he wanted that to be the high goal of engineering. I tend to surround myself with that sort of friend but nobody had the history and intelligence and creativity that Rick did. I would never trade my own life with anyone else’s when the thought comes up. But Rick’s life is the one exception to that.