Remembering Jonathan B. Postel
ISI's Personal Messages
 
Jon Postel was a good, kind, soft-spoken man. His accomplishments will long be used as a measure of excellence.

Jon,

We will all miss you. We know you're in a better place now. We're only sorry God took you from us so soon.

Emad Fanous


--jon was a wonderful, charitable, compassionate man who exemplified the saying "leading by example". He inspired tremendous loyalty and protectiveness in those who knew him well. I took it personally when his character was attacked by those who didn't know him, but --jon always seemed able to ignore the political tornado that he was at the center of. I have never known a more humble individual, and he surprised me daily with his quirky sense of humor. I remember with great fondness when he showed me his recently awarded silver medal...he pulled it out of his pants pocket and dropped it in my hand. Most people would have displayed it grandly and ostentatiously, but not --jon. He just wanted it close to him...in his pocket. I feel so lucky to have known him personally, and feel luckier still to be able to carry on his spirit to those who never had the chance to know him. You will be missed dearly --jon, to me you will always be Father Internet.


I have had the pleasure of working for Jon Postel for nearly twenty years. Jon was a very private individual, but he was also avuncular. Pleasant to virtually anyone who he came into contact with, willing both to encourage and to advise.

Jon was a reliable constant in a changing world, a 60's radical who still looked it, still fighting the good fight. What was the early networking community anyway, if it wasn't a commune? He was also a brilliant researcher with an encyclopedic mind concerning all things packet.

It was distressing to see Jon involved the hurly burly that seems to have characterized much of the last year or two. It can't have been comfortable for him. But as one of the Internet's parents he felt a keen responsibility to see that the net reached its adulthood healthy and strong. That is quite an epitaph.

To call Jon laid back is truly an understatement. To have succeeded in visibly irritating him was a perverse accomplishment. But Jon did have one button that you just plain didn't want to push: The one labeled 'reliable datagram'. Push it and you risked an immediate charge of heresy.

So in future, as you sit in a quiet corner, reflecting on the Internet and its history, generate a few datagrams, attach a sequence number and send them Jon's way. One of them is bound to get there.

--- greg finn


I remember that there was one time I was trying to setup a Linux box in my office. I accidently hijacked ISI file server's traffic (sorry!). I found out later, most of people from 11th floor (for sure there were many others from other floors) got off from their work early because of this incident. I felt very bad about this. Jon dropped by my office later and said: "Don't do it again", with smile behind his beard.

I don't know Jon very much although we have been working together under the same roof for more than 2 yrs. He was always swamped with documents and papers around him. I feared that I would interrupt him from doing his job. I really wish I could have known him better and what would be behind his beard. I shall miss him.

-WeeSan

http://www.isi.edu/~wlee/

+1 (310)822-1511x116


To: GOD@heaven.uni

Dear God:

I thought I should send you a note about the new networking guy that showed up this weekend, Jon.

If you don't like change, you are in trouble. He changed everything down here in less time than your children roamed in the wilderness with Moses. However, the things he changed made life much better for everyone on the whole planet. Most remarkably, he managed to do all this good without becoming greedy/rich, like most people down here.

If you have to pass a test to get into heaven, you are in trouble. When I asked Jon what it was like in the very early days of the Internet he explained many things, but the thing I remember most was the way he described passing his PhD hurdles. For one stage there were a number of candidates. After a test, the results were posted on a hallway bulletin board. Some guys passed, some guys failed, and next to Jon's name it said "See the Dean". Upon inquiring with the Dean Jon was told: "you passed, but you have an attitude!".

If you have a lot of silly rules in heaven, you are in trouble. We have a lot of silly rules down here. Whenever I tried to get away with adding any, Jon was there to show how silly they were. His idea was for everyone to simply do the right thing and everything would be fine. Once when I was fighting with our superiors on campus about a really silly problem ($2.99 worth of milk), I copied Jon on a long-winded note to campus attempting to refute the rules. Jon sent me a quick reply -- "good rebuttal, excellent arguments, and you are (finally) getting an attitude; keep it up!".

Other than the things I've pointed out, I think the two of you will get along well. Depending on how recently he has had a haircut and if he brought his sandals, his attire and appearance will be familiar to you. He is a peaceful, quiet, caring, intelligent, and sincere guy. But whenever he gets that Junior-high-school-boy-grin on his face, be careful -- he's up to something mischievous.

Be sure to say "Hi" to him for us; we miss him already.

Sincerely,

Cary


[This tribute was originally submitted to a reporter who requested comments from me about --jon.] Joyce K. Reynolds

Karen,

I received your voice mail and was going to contact you today to provide you with my thoughts on Jon from our "team work" efforts together as "Postel & Reynolds".

It is important to me that I get my words across to you. Lately, when I try to personally chat with people on how I felt working so closely with Jon all these years, I just end up in "babble" mode. So, I am doing this via email because I want to *get this right* for Jon.

I started working here at ISI in July 1979. In 1983, I went to work in this division, with Jon Postel as my Project Leader. We were together for 15 1/2 years as a team on the RFC Editor and IANA projects (March 1983 - October 1998). When teaming up on a project with Postel, you worked WITH the man, not FOR him. That's the kind of "boss" Jon was to me.

Through the years when we were both in the office, and not on business travel we met every day. We would sit side by side in his office working on various RFC Editor or IANA tasks of the day. He was also a person who was interruptible. If you needed to ask a question that may have come up, you didn't need to wait for your time slot the next day to settle the query.

We always had a "set" meeting time; 11:00am, but this was not absolute. I'd spend a lot of my time going to his office and say, "Is it 11, yet?" Sometimes my "11" ended up to be at 3:00pm, but we did eventually meet. Jon's Administrative Assistant used to say to me, "Now you know when you go into Jon's office he is in his own timezone, "JBP time"".

Jon was also supportive of my "volunteer" efforts in the IETF arena. I was the IETF User Services Area Director for a number of years. Jon let me do that work provided that I would be sure to get my "real work" of IANA/RFC Editor completed as tasked. He encouraged me and signed off on my time to travel all over the world to "get the word out" about Internet user services. I felt that while the engineers were so busy developing the protocols, they didn't pay attention to what the user needed, until it was too late. So, a user had a technical specification but didn't have any clue on how to use it from their perspective.

While everyone has given you his enormous technical contributions, he was quite clever in other ways. Vint mentioned to you about his RFC number fun and the 1 April Fool RFCs. He also created the "legendary" nick name that most folks in the Internet know me by: "jkrey". It was the advent of UNIX, and us TOPS-20 folks had to switch to it. My login name then was "jkreynolds" (for Joyce K. Reynolds).

Weeeelllll...dear UNIX at the time could only handle eight characters in a login name. At first our computer center folks were just going to have my login be "reynolds", but I am known around here as "JK". So, I went whining to Jon that I didn't like "reynolds". He sat and pondered for few minutes, then wrote down on a piece of paper, "jkrey". "How about this?", he said. I took one look and thought, catchy! :-)

My fondest "story" about how the world looked at Postel & Reynolds as IANA and RFC Editor came from one of our Internet friends/colleagues. This person sent an email message to Jon and I one day stating, "Please don't take this as an insult, but you two work so seamlessly together I can't tell who is the IANA and who is the RFC Editor? So, who does what? Which one of you administers IANA? Who works on the RFCs?" Jon and I were sitting side by side as usual, reading this email together. Jon turned and looked at me with a big grin on his face, turned back to the keyboard and started typing a reply. It was one word, "Yes." To this day, I took his response as a wonderful compliment of how he felt about our work together.

On a personal note, Jon loved nature. Hiking and mountain climbing was his forte. He loved the ocean. Yet, he didn't like to be on a boat. He liked to watch the gray whales migrate. He would watch them from a bluff off of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. I said to him one time, "Oh, you're missing so much not seeing the whales from a boat out in the ocean!" He replied, "I don't do boats."

Yet, at an INET Conference in San Francisco one year, the social was being held on a boat which went out and around the bay. I attended that function. While there, I stated to a colleague what a wonderful time Jon would have at this social, but he doesn't like to be on a boat. The colleague said he had seen Jon on the boat. I went looking for him and sure enough, Jon was there! I said to him, "I thought you never get on boats." He stated to me that this boat was okay, because it was staying inside the bay and not going out to sea!

While it is so hard for those of us left behind to get through the loss of Jon Postel, the person, it is even harder for me to let go. I have to come to grips that "Postel & Reynolds" will never be the same again.

Yet, I am so proud to have been able to know Jon. What I was able to see and experience while working with him was priceless.

Joyce K. Reynolds


Its been hard to find the right words to say about the man who taught me so much and was such a great example of selflessness, humility and perseverance. For almost two years, I worked under Jon, assisting him in various projects while learning the interworkings of the Internet. With his office right across from mine, we talked often, laughed a lot, and shared much. He will never be forgotton. I will never forget those times when my office door was closed while I was on the phone, and he walked right into my office, looked at me, realized I was busy for the moment, and then turned away with a childish look on his face, embarrassed at this interruption. That was Jon - he always reminded me of a kid trapped in an adult's body.

He took everything in stride, however. The last year was very rough. There was a lot of criticism and turmoil concerning the Internet, and it took its tool on himi. For years, Jon made the Internet work - he was the behind the scenes guy, who didn't want any praise or thanks. He was just doing his job. He downplayed all the awards he received, but you could tell he was excited that someone noticed that he was doing great things.

For all of his hard work since 1969, the last year, he spent taking a beating for his service to the Internet community. Incredible and unfounded accusations errupted, but he took everything in stride. People who did not even know him talked like he did not know what he was doing, that he was a horrible influence on the Internet. Regardless, he was never shaken, and always perservered. They did not know the true man, who wisely guided the Internet to where it is today. While others were in it for the money, Jon was in it for the "good of the community." His heart, physically, was weakened by so much, but his will was strong and his love for the Internet was bigger than life.

I will miss peeking into his office to discuss a quick issue and the hallway chats that were usually more productive than meetings. Certainly, I will miss my 9:30 meeting every Monday, Wednesday and Friday which usally started at 10:30. Most of all, I will miss the humble and quiet man who touched so many lives, but is hardly recognized for his incredible accomplishments and dedication to us.

God Bless,

Josh Elliott


I worked for Jon Postel for almost four years, on various things that needed doing: as a programmer, writer, network engineer, occasional devil's advocate.

It didn't take long to discover he was one of the most intelligent people I've ever met and one of the gentlest. It also didn't take long to find out that he was *not* among the most reverent or serious people I'll ever know: his sly sense of mischief was sometimes an even bigger contribution to meetings than his unassuming brilliance.

I've been trying to figure out what I can possibly say about him that others won't say with far more eloquence, and there probably isn't anything. I can only offer my heartfelt sympathy to those who knew him longer and more closely than I.

Nonetheless, after a few days' reflection, I know this: To me "great" can only describe someone who is both a good person and one who has accomplished something for the wider world. Today I can say I have worked with, laughed with, always admired, and now lost the only truly great person in my life.

To the world outside he was first an obscure engineer and then, for better and worse, "the man behind the curtain" running critical functions for the Internet. To builders of the Internet everywhere, he was the quiet, confident good sense of the community wrapped up in the titles "RFC Editor" and "Director of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority." But to people at ISI, lucky enough to work with him from one day to another, he was just "Jon", our leader and colleague.

The only thing larger than the sadness of losing him is the gratitude and delight I will always have for the privilege of knowing him.

(Sorry Jon, I know it would have embarrassed you to hear it....just smile to yourself and say nothing.)

Suzanne Woolf



 
Page Updated 23-October-98