I suppose that if you blog long enough, the time will come (probably repeatedly) when you have to write difficult, even painful, posts. This, for me, is the first of those times. As Al has already noted, Keith Aoki passed away yesterday. He was a mentor and, more than that, a friend.
In a prior life, I was a junior professor at the University of Oregon. I have many happy memories of the place and the people, and many of those memories involve Keith.
But the memory that keeps coming back is a time when someone on the faculty had a party at their house during the summer. I can no longer remember who had the party, but they had just bought a trampoline that morning. I was jumping on it with the kids (yes, I was much younger and more energetic then) and one of the grown ups came out to tell us that there was actually an instruction book with the trampoline and that we should probably have some rules about not all jumping at once, so that no one got hurt. And one of the kids said that we didn’t want any stinking instructions or rules and all of a sudden Keith showed up, in his black leather jacket and long hair and started chanting “No instructions! No rules!” And then we all started chanting along with him and jumping around on the trampoline shouting it.
That’s how I’ll always remember Keith – a fist in the air, shouting “No instructions! No rules!” at the world. And I wonder whether his new colleagues at UC Davis saw him the same way or whether his institutional persona changed over the years (it’s not as if most of my current colleagues would think of me as the type to jump on a trampoline with a bunch of kids). When I saw him again, years later, he had short hair and wore a suit, but he still seemed the same person on the inside. In fact, I think he made a specific reference to the better aim acquired through throwing bombs -- figuratively, of course -- from the inside.
And I remember him as a kind and generous mentor – someone who valued and encouraged me when I was young and full of self-doubt. Keith’s influence shines through in some of my work from that time period, as I’m sure it does in the work of the many other folks he mentored over the years. The starred footnote in one article from my Oregon days reads “Although this paper has benefited from the comments of many readers, I am particularly indebted to Professor Keith Aoki for his helpful insights on the unique complexities of information." Ironically, it was Keith who first introduced me to the work of my current colleagues, Jamie Boyle and David Lange. And Al has already mentioned Keith’s amazing comic book work, with Jamie and Jennifer Jenkins – a lot of memories there too, I know.
I suspect Keith never realized how dear he was to so many people. Reading the comments to Al's post gives some sense of how much he'll be missed.
A fund is being set up for Keith’s two nine year old daughters, Sarah and Rachel. Anyone interested in donating should send an e-mail to Jamie Boyle at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.