It was 1967 and I was a five year old boy in a hospital room watching my family break down after hearing the news that my brother was dead. This reality was too hard for me to face at such a young age, so I chose to believe that my brother really wasn’t dead. In my favorite cartoon at the time, Racer X was Speed Racer’s brother, Rex, who was thought to be dead. I imagined Bobby also was just hidden from me.
By the age of twelve, I finally had a good cry about my loss when it struck me that 19 was too young of an age to die. My big brother had so much more to give and his passing left a huge void in my life. I was inspired to be a better son and try to fill the void for my parents.
In December of 1980, I was stunned by the news that John Lennon had been shot. I wanted to be a rock star, but my weak guitar skills and weaker singing voice forced me to choose a different path. I had just made the decision to go to college after a semester break. Graduating high school, the last thing I wanted was four years of college followed by a boring 9-to-5 job. My heroes were musicians and I wanted to inspire people like they had inspired me. The death of Lennon ripped a huge void in my life. He was who I wanted to be—unconventional, a person who changed the world. He was back in the studio recording music and had so much more to give us. John was too young to die. I was inspired to find a way to change the world in my own way even if it wasn’t on a stage.
In March of 1984, my father died. I was 21, newly married, and ready to show my personal hero what I could do when he left me. This void was cavernous. He was 60 years old and too young to die. My dad’s scope of influence was much smaller than Lennon’s, but to me he was just as inspiring. He challenged me to be smarter, stronger, and to take risks in life. I lived to make him proud of me.
His funeral was followed by a proper Irish wake, which meant dozens of family and friends raising a glass to Fran Hoctor and telling stories of his life—I was too angry to join in much of it. Later that day, I got a call that my Macintosh had arrived and I should come pick it up. It felt wrong to be excited, but I couldn’t help it. I had spent the last three months waiting for this and had become fascinated by the story of Steve Jobs and his pirate group at Apple who created this computer.
When Jobs stepped down from his CEO role, I knew he didn’t have too much longer to live, but I thought we would get a year or two more from him. When I heard the news of his death yesterday, a new void ripped open for me. Steve had inspired me to create better software, to be a better leader, to inspire a team to create something that could change the world. He made me want to make a positive dent in the universe. And like the others, he had more to give us and was too young to die.
Steve was not a perfect man, but then neither were my other heroes. Inspiration doesn’t come from perfection. Instead, it comes from the impact that someone makes in your life. Each of these men that died impacted my life deep enough to change my direction. They all inspired me and for that I owe each of them. My repayment will continue to be how I live my life.
Thanks to my brother and my dad, I have a deep love of family, the understanding that moments spent together are precious, and to not assume I will have time later to apologize. Thanks to John, I have a deep love of music and an understanding of how words and notes can move people to action. Thanks to Steve, I have a software company to run today. I will do what I can to honor his vision and create something great—maybe something that can change the world.