Farewell

2006-05-04

Peter Millard was laid to rest yesterday. Thanks to his wife Christina, I had the privilege of speaking at Peter's memorial service. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those who were influenced by Peter's work in the Jabber community could not be there last night, but I want those who have contacted me in the last week (people from Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Poland, Russia, China, India, Australia, and many other places) to know that I tried to make their voices heard. Peter's contributions to our community -- through Exodus (and before that Winjab), Jabber standards like publish-subscribe, and the jabber.org infrastructure will live on.

As "chief evangelist" for our community, I give talks about Jabber technologies at conferences around the world. Recently, as I was flying from Nashville to Dallas on my way home to Denver, I happened to strike up a conversation with the gentleman sitting next to me on the plane. He was a blue-collar kind of guy who said he had worked his way up to a management position at what he described as America's largest privately-held manufacturer of corrugated boxes. When I told him I worked on Jabber, he said "Oh, like Exodus Jabber?" It turns out his company uses Exodus for their internal Jabber installation. When I asked him whether he wanted any more features added to Exodus, he said "Nope, it's perfect the way it is."

That's Peter for you: the relentless pursuit of perfection. Peter had a great pride in his work. Not the false pride of vanity, but the true pride of craftsmanship and a job well done. He was a consummate engineer who loved building things, and building them right.

And he had a lot of fun doing so. For many of us, Jabber is not just a job (even if we get paid to work on it), it is a calling -- it's something we'd still contribute to even if our employers disappeared tomorrow. Peter spent countless hours of his spare time contributing to the Jabber community, but he didn't do that out of duty, he did it out of the joy of building ways for people all over the world to connect and communicate. I'll never forget the many "hackfests" that we had at Peter's house over the years, usually when Jabber inventor Jeremie Miller came to town. Pizza, diet Coke, and a connection to the Internet were all we needed to have a good time -- that and lots of coding and discussion about ways to make Jabber technologies even better. Peter had a wonderful, wry sense of humor that doesn't come out in code or specs, but will be remembered nonetheless by all who knew him.

At the service last night I was going to quote from a poem I wrote when my father died in 1999, but the words wouldn't come out, so instead I'll post it here. I've adjusted it slightly to refer to Peter and taken out the references to what my father did in life, but I don't think Peter would mind -- in our industry we call that reusability. :-)

As the generations of leaves,
so the generations of men.
Yet what's the value of one leaf?
Can it be just to grow the stem?
I think not, but I'm not sure why:
for if I say, as I am wont,
that meaning's made whenever I
create some value in the world,
then it would seem the worth of one
is only in its strength to serve,
to build the beam and build the bough
so others yet may bud and grow
and, having built, may fall to earth
when winter of their time has come.
But so to speak ignores the joy
and pride that comes from bringing new
and unique value to the world
or keeping whole what's come before,
for sake of others and oneself.
For there's no conflict here: we each
pursue an interest in the good
through single acts that are yet whole
and so create without intent
a world that's better for us all.
Just so did my friend Peter live.
And all I ask is that he gain
some small amount of honor from
the ones he left behind. A leaf
has fallen from the tree: he lived
with pride, he lived with joy, and we
are better for his having lived.


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal