Gary Birkett: A Community Heart

Some of us like to think that systems and data and processes are the bones, brains and blood of any venture.  And for the most part that’s true.  But what body can thrive without a heart?

This isn’t just rhetorical.  The question came up for me a few days ago when I received the devastating news that a very good friend had passed away. 

image courtesy Kathy Smith

Gary Birkett was no ordinary acquaintance for me.  I first encountered him online in the maemo.org community, when Maemo was still pulsing with fresh interest and (despite occasional lapses) Nokia seemed strongly behind the mobile Linux effort.  Gary showed up as “lcuk” in early 2008 and began peppering the discussion forum with unusual questions and wild ideas.  He exhibited an amazingly deep and broad understanding of graphics software and hardware, so deep that even with my own background in the fields he lost me easily.  I think that was true for many in the community.  His useful knowledge and friendly manner made him an instant hit in Maemo circles.

He wasn’t a prolific forum poster, but made up for that lack with a persistent presence on IRC.  It didn’t seem to matter what time or day, or that I am in Texas and he was in Manchester, England– whenever I signed on, there he was.  Always greeting new arrivals and sometimes pulling me into impromptu private conversations about nothing and everything.

I mention all of this because even though he joined in a little later than some of us, Gary quickly became part of Maemo’s core.  That was easily apparent at the second Maemo Conference, held in Amsterdam.  Gary’s mindblowing demos of liqflow were so popular that neither his new Nokia N900 nor his fingers got a rest… and as I noted in one story in his tribute thread:

In Amsterdam one night we all went to a club at Nokia’s treat, but the music was so loud several of us went outside.  It started raining lightly and I was the only one with an umbrella, so we huddled underneath, heads bumping occasionally, as Gary shared his liqbase touch-responsive particle swarming demo.  We were all charged up by it and kept throwing ideas at him, until finally he couldn’t take it anymore and had to run back to his hotel room to code.

That was Gary.

Gary was the sort of person to whom people gravitated.  They were pulled in by his talent, his cheer, his never-say-die attitude.  I guess the irony of that is what hit me so hard when his passing was announced on Twitter.

lcuk… dead???  It couldn’t be!  I’m still struggling to come to grip with the thought…

He leaves the open mobile world at a time when MeeGo battles abandonment rumors and maemo.org tries to imagine life in a post-Nokia time.  He also leaves behind a family that includes a baby I know he was so proud of fathering.

Some have remarked that his passing is symbolic, at least for Maemo, but I would rather focus on Gary’s life and contributions.  His seemed a life worth celebrating.  Interest in his interactive graphics work led to a celebrity stint at Nokia’s onedotzero 2009, where he displayed a spectacular N900 app projected outdoors and earned the praise of many ranging from Maemo newcomers to Nokia executives.

But praise alone only goes so far.  A community isn’t just about its projects and prospects– it’s about the people that make them happen, often in surprisingly brilliant fashion.  People of all types, backgrounds, modes of contribution.  A successful community embraces them all and supports that diversity not passively, but with passion.  With a heartfelt recognition that anything less leads nowhere.

Every community needs heart, and Maemo and MeeGo just lost a good one.  It will be up to the rest of us keep the lifeblood flowing.  Let’s do “lcuk” proud.

Gary, thanks for the friendship and inspiration.  We’re all missing you, mate.  Our thoughts are with your family and other friends.

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11 responses to “Gary Birkett: A Community Heart

  1. Pingback: Gary Birkett: A Community Heart | Tabula Crypticum | Maemo Meego

  2. Pingback: Randall Arnold: Gary Birkett: A Community Heart | MeeGo

  3. I have never talked to him, only made few chats while tried to help with liqbase performance issues back then… I could have seen him among people in Ruoholahti if he had ever been here, but otherwise our chances to meet were low… yet, I knew about him and this news make me sad. R.I.P.

  4. Thank you for this post, it’s really touching…

  5. It was really good of you to post that up. He only lived up the road from me here in the UK and was such an asset on the Meego world for me. He had such a lot to contribute to the community

  6. Never had the privilege of meeting him personally – only on Twitter and had some interesting chats over the weeks. Sadly a great loss to the developer community and will be missed – Thank you Randall for this post – gave me a little more insight to a great man. RIP GARY.

  7. as Joao, I have never met him personally, but he’s been the first to welcome me in the N950Club, and he’s always been kind and interested in what I was doing…I really appreciated that, I will miss him…

    Friendly, very friendly…

    Rest In Peace Gary…we’ll all miss you…

  8. Thank you for a brilliant tribute to a great man. He was a close friend of mine and is sorely missed. I used to enjoy listening to his latest projects even though most of the ins and outs went over my head. It was his enthusiasm in something he really believed in. I’d marvel at his ability and talent. A friend I will truly miss. My thoughts are with his family he left behind.

  9. I remember years ago swapping my Amiga 500+ with hiis older 500 because some games didn’t work on the plus ..he being computer savy and me being clueless and just wanting to play games it was a good deal. He will be missed.

  10. “Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

  11. Pingback: More Post-MeeGo Musing: Community Echoes | Tabula Crypticum

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