Nine years ago today, my NSA colleague, neighbor, and dear friend Paul Bartock passed away in his sleep. In addition to his outstanding technical work for the mission, Paul made countless friends and allies during his travels. I was going to share some stories in tribute to him at the ten-year mark (2022), but I can't get him out of my mind this morning – not in a sad way, but in joyful remembrance of a life well-lived and well-remembered by his many friends. In later stories, I'll have more to say about Paul's impact on NSA's Information Assurance mission. But for now, I just wanted to give an example of how cybergeeks celebrate one of their own.
Paul passed away right before the RSA Conference of 2012. Many of us delayed our travel to San Francisco to attend the viewing and burial service.
At the viewing for Paul, I was in line talking with Murugiah from NIST (a close colleague and friend of Paul's) and several others. It was the expected mix of heart-breaking sadness, awkwardness, and a few regrets. We spoke about how Paul was always in his glory at RSA, a technical and social leader. We also lamented that so many of his friends were not here to gather with us since they were already out West.
Inspiration struck! I can't recall the exact conversation and who suggested what, but the ideas flew fast. I think it started when I turned to Murugiah and said, "Let's get everybody together someplace at RSA and have a toast for Paul." "Great – how about his family?" "We could set up a video link and bring them in!" "I'll get NIST to set up the video feed" "I'll get the IA Front Office, and his friends back East could join us!" In moments we went from heart-broken friends to geeks with a PURPOSE!
Cybergeeks nationwide mobilized! The word spread fast, NIST set up a video conference, someone arranged for us to take over the second floor of a downtown bar, and we organized a quick mailing list. My wife coordinated with Paul's family (who would join us from multiple locations). But on the morning of the planned event in San Francisco, near-disaster! Murugiah found me and sadly said, "I'm really sorry, but NIST can't provide the video feed." I recall it was some government-y resource/legal reason.
In near-panic, I wandered to my first event, speaking at a breakfast Panel alongside old friend John Stewart (CISO of Cisco) – who was also a close friend of Paul's. Just before it started, John walked up and said the kind of thing we all say, "So sorry to hear about Paul, if there's anything I can do….". I knew he meant it, and I looked at him for a moment and blurted out, "Yes, Mr. Big Iron Network guy - BANDWIDTH - I need a video feed back to the East Coast tonight" - "I'm On It!!". So, as I delivered my opening remarks, John was frantically blackberrying his team to make arrangements. I did the same when it was his turn to speak. By mid-afternoon, everything was set!
At the appointed hour that evening, dozens of amazing security people from across industry and government jammed the second floor of the bar, and Paul's wife and children and several others from the IA Front Office logged in. Murugiah had several laptops up and running. And then, of course, we could not get the audio to work. After 15 minutes of crazed debugging, we were almost heading for Backup Plan Z (cell phones for audio). I paused the room and said, "Paul is up there laughing his a** off at us right now - some of the best tech talent in the country, and we're stumped on making a simple video link work!". Ah well. But moments later, with a mix of working feeds and cell phone back-ups, we got the event underway. Many nice things were said, many toasts were raised, many tears were shed. A fitting tribute to our friend and colleague.
Every year at RSA, in the same bar, NIST rehosts a local-only, low-key version of that gathering. I have made many friends at NIST over the decades, and this speaks volumes about the good people that work there. Friends from across the industry stop by, including one of Paul's sons. We don't speak directly of Paul so much anymore, but his spirit and friendship still connect and inspire us, even in a year when we are not able to gather in person.