Guy Kewney died. He was 63. He had cancer. The announcement was delivered by his daughter Lucy on her dad's Facebook page. We learned of it when my wife went to the BBC Technology Web site yesterday.
Guy chronicled the PC revolution from its birth. He knew such entrepreneurs as Adam Osborne and Clive Sinclair personally, interviewed Steve Jobs and Bill Gates when they were all in their salad days, and stayed at it through the age of the Internet.
What made Guy great wasn't his tech savvy. It was his attitude. He looked at everything from a user's perspective, and he was an avid user of everything that came his way. He never wrote down to his reader. His columns always read as though you were sitting right next to him, and he were trying to understand the new in context as you sat there and nodded.
It was Guy's status as the "customer's man" that made him truly great, and that kept British computer journalism relevant even as its American cousins — so devoted to vendors and their strategies — collapsed early in this century, their credibility shot.
Guy never lost his credibility.
My wife and I were privileged to stay at Guy's house in Finsbury Park for two weeks about 20 years ago. It was the best trip we've ever had. I got to watch Guy's work process at first-hand. Not just the way he dealt with computers, the way he played with them, but the way he dealt with sources, the way he wrote, and (perhaps most important) the way he dealt with writers, as an editor.
Guy Kewney probably trained more great journalists than any writer of his generation. He wasn't a screamer. He was a tweaker, a guide. He focused on the meaning of a piece, and never got lost in the weeds. This helped the people working for him also focus on the meaning, and it made us all better writers.
Jenni got to see Guy the man. She saw him as the father of Lucy and Alice, the husband of Mary, the paterfamilias who might sometimes miss dinner for a meeting but always regretted it, and always made up for it. He raised the curiosity of his girls, and always knew where his base was at home.
Guy was born in South Africa, and always retained a hint of that land in his accent, which made him stand out. I speculated to him once that he might be a relative. My grandmother was born a Cooney before she was married, and the Kewney spelling was a way to make Cooney phonetic, he told me.
One thing his obituary did not mention was his work with the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), which was still a major story when we visited. CAMRA, as its name implies, is a group that wants good beer, beer with body and the best possible ingredients, beer brewed with love.
This was not the trend in the late 1980s. The big British brewers were buying up all the pubs, replacing their quirky brews with their mass marketed swill. A key bit of British culture was under threat. Guy and his friends were revolutionaries.
But what a revolution. All the food trends of the last 20 years — snout-to-tail eating, locavorism, respect for ingredients, simple casual dining — came out of the CAMRA ethos. So did the great British food stars of the last 20 years, like Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver (who grew up in his family's pub).
Instead of talking about CAMRA, his obit talked about the incident below, a few years ago, when a Congolese job applicant at the BBC was mistaken for him in a morning show's green room, and went on in his stead, trying manfully to answer questions about Internet trends. It was known as The Wrong Guy incident, and I'm sure Guy laughed about it along with the rest of us. That's the way he was.
Guy didn't want credit for his work with CAMRA, nor for the history he was making in tech. Guy was a man of the moment, of every moment. Quiet moments with his family, intense moments at press conferences, lively moments writing or trying new stuff. His reward was to see things change just a little in the right way, in 100 different ways, to witness the march of progress and feel himself a part of it.
It's a really wonderful life.
Guy Kewney was the example I and a generation of journalists after me have tried to live up to. We all fail sometimes, but without that high target to shoot at where would we aim?
I can't say much more without getting gushy. So I'll close here with what the director John Frankenheimer said of his friend, the actor Burt Lancaster.
"He talked the talk, and he walked the walk. He lived a noble life."