On Monday, September 27th my business partner and friend of 40 years, Wolfgang Jakobsberg, died in a tragic bicycle accident. Wolfy was 71 and loved to be out biking. I went back to Maryland for the funeral. The photo below was taken of Wolfy before leaving for our wedding two years ago.
I was asked to give one of the eulogies and together with my other business partner, Till Cartwright, wrote the following:
As we go through life we constantly intersect with people. Sometimes these intersections are momentary - a joint smile with a passing pedestrian, a seatmate on a plane trip, a cashier at the supermarket. Sometimes the intersection can last a lifetime. I first met Wolfy in early 1963 while I was a part time employee at Booz-Allen. `Hurricane' Wolfy came breezing into my office and life that day and never left.
Who would have guessed that this one intersection would lead to a business partnership which spanned all of these years and resulted in several successful companies and some, not so successful. It was timely for Wolfy to be a part of the technology revolution that unfolded during the 70's - 80's - 90's.... and, there is no doubt that he contributed to that revolution in more ways than one. He was an innovator… He loved seeing what new creation was next whether a faster, smaller computer or a new touchscreen technology that he could use in our products. Till and I used to cringe when he would make a sales call and return “ecstatic”..We knew he had sold something, again, that we had not developed and, probably the parts hadn't even been created for it.
But, he loved it that way.. He loved the challenge and he knew we would figure it out and we typically did.. like designing modified keyboards in the mid 70's which our proposals said were produced in the “TTSS' manufacturing plant”, that is, our cramped offices where the drying racks were the office windowsills… like creating a “line” of kiosks which are still acknowledged by the architectural community as “cutting edge”, but require custom fabricators up and down the East Coast to produce… like winning a bid to install the first Driver License Testing System in the country in the District of Columbia before we had written one line of computer code and had not the foggiest idea of what kind of computer equipment we would need.. ..These were never problems to Wolfy.. and he made it happen.
I like to think about the many employees and customers whose lives also intersected with his during these years. He set the expectations high, demanded excellence and provided the mentoring - you just had to be able to take it when you screwed up.
I often wonder how different our intersection may have been if I had met Wolfy at another time in my life and whether we would have been friends. What if during the past three years I had needed some home improvement work done and someone recommended this `older' gentleman that had just started his own business. I would have met an individual who took tremendous pride in doing the perfect job, someone totally and completely honest, someone who was knowledgeable about a host of subjects and was not afraid to give you an opinion on any of them, a person who would go on and on about his four grandchildren, his three children, his son-in-law, his daughter-in-law and, of course, his wife and would have been interested in your life. He probably would have become my friend.
What if I had started to ride on the Thursday night Potomac Peddler rides not knowing Wolfy. I would have immediately noticed the oldest rider who unlike everyone else was not hunched over his handlebars but rode `un- aerodynamically' in a straight up sitting position and still managed to ride faster than a lot of the younger riders. I would have seen a man who had an unusual cue sheet holder on the front of his bike that he had designed and installed after looking at all those available and deciding he could build a better one. I would have noticed someone who loved the congeniality of the group of riders and who joined in the discussions at pizza afterwards even though he had trouble hearing everyone. He probably would have become my friend.
Two summers ago I lost two very close friends of 40 years to cancer. Their bouts with cancer did not last long - both died within months of being diagnosed. When you are dealing with someone who is terminally ill you begin to discuss things with them that you would not ordinarily discuss. When someone is taken suddenly you are denied this time - these discussions. That is one of the things about Wolfy's death that is so tragic. When you have known someone for 40 years you talk to them about many things - but not all things. I did not get a chance to tell him that if I had not met him on that day in 1963 I probably would not have been a partner in my own business - that I learned a lot from him about family and children - that I learned about pride in things `Jewish' - that I learned how to send the Xerox repair department into condition purple - that I learned how to be the passenger in a car driven by a person that was always at full throttle. I did not get a chance to thank him for calling me everyday - sometimes twice a day and often visitng me to see how I was doing while I was home recovering from my recent surgery.
Thank you - Wolfy. Till joins me in sharing this overwhelming sadness. We lost a truly wonderful friend.