Jay and I worked together for the last five years of his life. It is hard, probably, for the general public to appreciate just how special he was. There are a great many computer scientists who can write brilliant papers, show deep insight into hard problems, build elegant prototypes. Much rarer are the small number that can build something, make it work, and keep it running day after day, week after week, year after year. Still fewer are the tiny number that can build something that everyone wants to use. Still fewer are the minuscule number that build something everyone copies and incorporates in their own work. Finally, the number that can do all that -- and do it at a University, on a shoestring budget, kept going with a tiny, competent, extremely dedicated -- can be counted on the fingers of one hand. After an amputation.
Jay was one of that tiny, tiny, number. He was a true giant, admired by all of us. The fact that he could do this speaks volumes about the man. Not simply about his technical knowledge and skill, though of course that was formidable. Mostly, however, it speaks to his personal character. Building this and keeping it going requires extraordinary dedication, determination, and, most important, the charisma that comes from being a genuinely wonderful person. Nobody has to work at a University, nobody has to fund it -- Jay kept his group together and kept them funded and going because, at the end of the day, they simply didn't want to be anywhere else or with anyone else.
When Jay got sick late last year, he realized that Emulab was his life's work, his art, and he wanted to use the time he had left -- he and we thought there would be several years more of it -- to advance and spread it. If anything, he got even more dedicated. I vividly remember one night in February when we were putting finishing touches on a proposal together. We were doing what research computer scientists do -- revising text, checking budgets, emailing each other final last-minuted edits as the proposal deadline got closer and closer. I remember looking up at the clock in my study in California and 2 AM, and thinking to myself, "I'm 51 years old, too old to be doing this nonsense -- I'm stupid. But it's 3 AM where Jay is, and he has *cancer*. Now that man is crazy". I didn't say it to Jay, unfortunately -- he would have gotten a kick out of that.
The last time I saw Jay was, of course, at a meeting in Washington in July. His hair was gone, and he'd lost a lot of weight. He had a skin rash, and had to spend several hours a day treating it. When he had a memory slip (rare) he said that he had "chemotherapy brain". But for all that, his trademark humor and good nature were omnipresent. he treated his disease as a minor annoyance. He was optimistic, as we all were. He had a new doctor at Huntsman who was an expert in Myeloma, and whose patients had an average life expectancy of nine years past diagnosis. I felt sure that Jay had several years left, and expected that the next time I saw him the side effects of chemo would be past. I also hoped that new treatments would emerge and he'd be with us indefinitely, and healthy indefinitely.
The meeting broke up early -- miracle of miracles. Jay was going to stay another day in DC, and my flight was out late. We had some time to talk, and so we did -- about the projects we had going together, of course, but also about our families, a little; mutual reminiscing about Berkeley and old friends; nature, art, politics, science. It was a wonderful afternoon, and it is with a great deal of sadness that I realize it was the last one. A great man and a good friend. The world will miss him, and so will I.