I am John Howard and I am one of Robert’s brothers. The pieces of Robert’s life I want to talk about are his devotion to his family, his friends, and his work.
Robert was a great dad!
I can picture countless times that Robert would stop by our house on his way out to Saturday excursions with the girls loaded in the back of a bike trailer, his Suzuki, or his car. They were usually headed to a park or some other outdoor place. That was his special time with them and he really loved it. Sam and Nica told Robert they were interested in motorcycling a month ago. Robert borrowed two minibikes from my sister’s family. I stopped by and gave him a youth helmet for Sam. When I arrived late in the evening, the bikes (which hadn’t been started in years), were not running. I thought “Hmm, hard to believe this trip is gonna happen tomorrow.” The email from him the next night said the trip was a wild success. He’d stayed up late into the night. Disassembling the entire fuel system and rebuilding it. He could fix anything and nothing was going to make him let down the girls.
He loved having kids in part because he stayed a kid. Robert loved creating and having a creative “builders” home was in his DNA. Those of you who know Howards know that we are packrats. Ana-Maria was working on him, trying to pare down the stuff. One sticking point was the number of Legos. Robert wanted more in his, I mean the girls’, stash. My daughter, Amanda, told me this week that he would buy new kits and slip them to her having her mix them in when she was babysitting. Thus the Lego pile grew. Wherever they are Ana Maria just gave Robert “THE LOOK”.
Robert became a consummate PTA dad. Volunteering in class and hosting an annual 4X4 excursion auctioned off each year at El Carmelo’s silent auction. And, of course, schlepping and setting things up for Ana-Maria’s art and volunteer events.
Robert was a true friend!
He was part of a really tight group of guys right out of high school — they are still tight. They are here today. Four of them gave each other nicknames to make them sound more cool. One of them was named Bond. Robert intended to call himself Rutger after Blade Runner’s Rutger Hauer. They contracted Rutger to Rat and so he was to them these last 30 years. Rat would host parties in his first home on the flight path to Moffett field during the air shows. We’d watch the shows sitting on the roof. In the fifties his house had been hit by a Navy jet and rebuilt. For one of the shows they made a Papier Mache Jet tail-section and mounted it on the roof. He always felt safe there because as he said: “This house was pre-disastered!”
For Robert, anything longer than a weekend meant a trip out of town. He would constantly go on for four-wheel driving adventures or pack up the camper with the family and their stuff and take off. He joined a group of my friends on an annual Fall camping trip to desert hot springs. Robert introduced us to new secret places that he had found in his own adventures. It was on one of these trips that he took me 4 wheeling. After three hours of being alternately thrown against the dash, passenger window, and roof I told him I wasn’t getting the appeal. He stopped at the top of a steep, stair cased descent. Looked over and said. “Here, you drive it down.” I was hooked. I bought another Samurai and the two of us had several adventures as we progressively fixed it up.
Robert was a Builder, Teacher, and Engineer
Robert was a gifted designer, craftsman, and engineer. Robert could design and build anything. And chances are he’d have the material in his vast array of “extra parts”. In High school he modified a moped to be a cafe racer. Complete with fairing and dropped handlebars. Later in life, he continually modified and optimized cars and houses to meet his exacting ideas. No one I knew could do it better and I have no idea where he found the time.
He and I worked at Apple at the same time and he was considered “one of the creative ones”. Robert also became a talented manager and was called into save several programs. He loved design and designing. At work he worked closely with the engineers and created a fun team environment. While going through his files the other day I found a note from Jean-Louis Gassee, an early Apple Executive VP, congratulating Robert for his work on an Apple project. How this was exactly the kind of innovation needed and to keep up the good work. Robert wrote Jean-Louis back, “Thank You.. and that’s very nice of you…, but I really thought it was a team effort.” He was humble and always acknowledged those around him.
He spent the last 15 years at Lunar. You know how almost everyone grouses about their job at some point or another? I never heard him say a bad thing about it. It seemed to fit like a glove. His colleagues there told us this week that Robert could listen well and was nice, but he was also extremely rational and could think things through and bring analytic skills to play. Through Apple, Lunar and teaching at Stanford he played a key role in mentoring many young engineers.
Robert was funny!
In a family full of people who fancy themselves as funny and a Silicon Valley full of clever people, Robert stood out. It was what you noticed first about Robert. He had a wicked sense of humor. He was faster than the rest of us. He could hit a joke before you realized you had an opportunity. A night out with Robert was going to be a night of humor and insightful irreverence.
I have been thinking about us coming here today. We want to know that their lives had meaning — that they will live on. Robert lived a life with few regrets. He concentrated on the important things: family, friends, creating, teaching, and learning. I can promise you that Robert lives on in our memories; in the work lives of everyone he mentored and worked with; in the terrific products he was part of bringing to market; in the inspiration he provided to be a good husband and father; and in the humor that still rings in our ears.
I love you and will miss you, Robert.