Thomas F. Mandel (1946-1995)
news.1744.34: A new pseud for a new life (mandel) Sun 26 Mar 95 08:07 I had another motive in opening this topic, to tell the truth, one that winds its way through almost everything I've done online since last October when my cancer was diagnosed. I figured that, like everyone else, my physical self wasn't going to survive forever and I guess I was going to have less time than actuarials allocate us. But if I could reach out and touch everyone I knew online--here, in TIME Online, on the Net in various "places"--I could toss out bits and pieces of my virtual self and the memes that make up Tom Mandel, and then when my body died, I wouldn't really have to leave...large chunks of me would also be here, part of this new space. Not an original idea, but what the hell, worth the try, and maybe one day someone can reconstruct all of the piece in some sort of mandelbot and I can be arrogant and obstinate and affectionate and compassionate and everything else that you all seem to feel I am.
My futurist friend, Tom Mandel, died early this morning of lung cancer, while listening to Beethoven's Ninth. Tom always did have a classy way of doing things.
I figured that the least I could do is to take the day off and go to the beach, always a good place to think about Tom. A nice wilderness hike of four miles; Tom would have noted the lack of surf, but he would have liked it anyway (I first met Tom offline on a hike around Mount Tam but mostly I knew him from daily interactions on the WELL). I'd promised to show Tom this secret place, when he stopped through Seattle on his self-proclaimed "Farewell Tour" this spring with Maria. Alas, the ten-month average survival for his type of lung cancer only turned out to be five months for Tom.
Four great blue herons, standing around at low tide, were busy prospecting in the shallows. Like Tom, they were slender -- but with a great streamlined wingspan, encompassing lots of territory. Tom spanned lots of territory, having explored widely and informed himself well about a great many things. Still, herons aren't the right metaphor. There were also two sea lions cruising offshore, big round eyes taking me in, looking as if they were ready for fun and frolic. Definitely Mandellike, but lacking his breadth.
And I saw a total of five bald eagles, an all time record in my experience. That's about ten times more than I usually see there. The first one I saw was perched atop an "eagle tree" -- you know, one of those trees that got bent at the top in a windstorm, then healed at an angle and eventually aged to become the perfect vantage point for a bald eagle.
Tom would have liked that, but I was shocked to discover that this particular eagle reminded me of Tom: it was a large juvenile, scruffy looking because it was molting into its adult plumage. The last time that I saw Tom, about seven weeks ago, he too had recently "molted" (thanks to a round of chemotherapy) and was cheerfully regaining his adult plumage, rakish moustache and all.
Then I remembered the sight I'd seen on that very beach a few years ago, a bald eagle that veered around me as I stood on the beach. It was steadfastly hauling away a dead fish while being mobbed by several offended smaller birds. I doubt that the eagle would have flown so close to me, but for the noisy distractions and the heavy load. How often I've marveled at The Mandel being mobbed on line by noisy detractors -- and then, with persistence, principle, and facts, converting many of them!
I've met a lot of well-informed people, but Tom was one of the most articulate. He was certainly most willing to share in the give and take of discussing things with others on line. It helped that he could type 100+ wpm, and think even faster (I, alas, am a hunt and peck typist and think even more slowly -- so he usually managed to point out an on-line fallacy before I could).
I'm not sure how many people understood the nature of his job as a futurist; he didn't say much about it on line. It's a pretty esoteric preoccupation, taking the long view and advising people making big money decisions about the coming decade. But, if you know futurists (they're even rarer than neurophysiologists, but I've had the good fortune of knowing a number of them via the Global Business Network), his well-thought-out perspectives really showed. When Tom said something about trends and future problems and political realities, I listened hard, having been convinced time and again that he usually knew what he was talking about.
No, eagles aren't quite the perfect metaphor, either -- they may look majestic, but they're not very perceptive about the long run. Still, I bet that every time I see another eagle at the beach, I'll be reminded of The Mandel who enriched my life from 1986 to 1995.
Should I see an eagle on a surfboard -- well, I think I'd have to raise a toast to it with a double dose of Tom's favorite single malt scotch. And wink.
William H. Calvin
and his article in TIME special cyberspace issue
The obit from the SF Examiner
The obit from TIME 17 April 1995
Andrew Leonard's column on Mandel in the San Francisco Bay Guardian
Gerard van der Leun's remembrance of Tom Mandel from The WELL.
revised 17 April 95