April 1, 1922 - October 10, 2002
October 15, 2002
At first I could not quite believe the news that Keith was gone. Like the North Star, the Big Dipper and the Southern Cross, he was like a fixed and friendly constellation in our universe. He was always there and ready to help you navigate through our complex and increasingly high tech lives. So like everyone else, I felt shock, surprise, sadness, at this news but there was something else. I couldn't quite figure out what it was I was feeling but finally it made sense. Thankful! That's it! I was feeling thankful to have known and worked with Keith for all these years.
ARPA never had a better friend. You didn't know the real meaning of support until you had Keith and the entire ISI team behind you. I always looked forward to my ISI visit as an ARPA program manager. Keith would greet me with that great smile. "Hiya, Dr. Cerf! How the heck are ya?" And that great warm handshake.
When ARPA wanted to spend more money on Keith's group at RAND, but couldn't, Keith started ISI and sold the idea overnight to USC. I remember regretting that UCLA, where I did my dissertation work, was apparently too slow to respond in time. Keith was many things but patience was not his strong suit.
Keith and ISI are intimately bonded in my memories of the evolution of the Internet. Some of the most critical players in its early and also its long-term history were drawn to ISI. Anyone who knows the Internet story will recognize names like Jon Postel, Bob Braden, Danny Cohen, Dan Lynch, Paul Mockapetris, Steve Crocker and Joyce Reynolds. If they ever make bubble gum trading cards of Internet personalities, Keith and the ISI list will be longer than most!
Some of my favorite memories of Keith come from our trips together to demonstrate the ARPANET in far away places. As president of AFIPS, Keith was an active participant in its international affairs. In 1974, we traveled to Johannesberg, South Africa and showed the ARPANET at an IFIP-sponsored event there. We used the first prototype commercial acoustic coupler ever permitted by South African Telecom to get back to the US on a 300 bit per second dial up line. I'm still amazed that it worked but Keith was ever confident we could make it so.
We did a repeat performance the next year in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This time we brought a gigantic General Electric Light Valve projection unit half the size of a refrigerator. They set up a satellite link from New York to Rio de Janeiro and a microwave link from Rio to Sao Paulo. When they brought us into the auditorium we found three bare copper wires sticking up from the stage, two dry cell batteries and a hand-cranked telephone. Keith had to keep the audience entertained while we tried to get this Rube Goldberg setup to work. Incredibly, it did. Which led me to believe that Keith carried around not a little bit of his own luck. I still remember having the best steak au poivre in my life with Keith at the Rio airport while we were waiting for connecting flights back to the States.
After ISI, Keith continued to give his support to Bob Kahn and me at CNRI. He was a most thoughtful sounding board. Ever upbeat. Ever ready to be tough if necessary. He was quick to grasp the national and international implications of information technology. Visiting senior administration officials with Keith was always a refreshing and entertaining experience. Somehow, in just a few words, Keith could lay out the critical national importance of projects that further developed the country's information infrastructure. He was often at his most eloquent with the US military that he served so well in World War II and later on an endless array of advisory panels, to say nothing of his very direct service to DARPA.
As wonderful as all these recollections are, and as significant as all of Keith's other activities, contributions and accomplishments are, I have to admit to you that as I have gotten older, I've come to appreciate even more one of Keith's most endearing qualities. Like a certain captain of the starship Enterprise, Keith proved beyond doubt that bald is beautiful and sexy. Now that's leadership!
Next month we Americans will be counting our blessings and among them I will count my good fortune to have known and worked with Keith Uncapher for many, many years.