A very good man died yesterday in his sleep, which is a good way for a very good man to go. He died after a long illness, and after a lifetime of excellence. His name was Bill Campbell, but in Silicon Valley, he was known as The Coach.
Bill Campbell was many things. He was a husband, a father, a stepfather, a salesman, a strategist, a humanist, a chief executive, a chairman and a mentor. He was a football captain, the last to lead Columbia to the Ivy League title, and he was a football coach, too, at his beloved Columbia University and at Boston College.
He was all of these things, and he was a rugby man, too.
He achieved a great many things in his life; he joined Apple in 1983 and helped launch the Macintosh a year later. He put the famous "1984" commercial in the Super Bowl, and completely supported, as he put it to me once, "Steve Jobs' vision of the democratisation of the personal computer."
He became chief of business software firm Intuit, and under him it flourished. He returned to Apple in 1997, serving its board until 2014. No one served longer.
In recent years he was the go-to man for the best chief executives and entrepreneurs in tech. He guided the likes of Google's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, and Amazon's Jeff Bezos. And he was always there for Jobs.
He achieved all of this, and much, much more. Yet one achievement always stood above all the others.
In 1963 Bill Campbell and a handful of Columbia boys founded a rugby club. They called it New York Old Blue, and had no idea what to do next.
Campbell was a football man, and so was Paul Zimmerman - "Dr Z" as he would go on to be known to Sports Illustrated readers. John Wellington was the dean of admissions, Bill Smith a journalist and later energy industry PR man. Pat Moran, an Irishman, was in the school of general studies and the only one who knew anything about rugby. Dick Donelli was the son of the Columbia football coach and watched rugby films to learn how to play. He would later captain a New York selection against the All Blacks.
I asked Bill last year, during the club's annual Hall of Fame dinner, how he ranked his accomplishments. He looked at me, his grey eyes watering, his husky voice cracking, and he said, "One, founding Old Blue. And nothing comes close in second."
I had met Bill earlier that day, at Baker Field at the tip of Manhattan where the Old Blue were playing rough in the spring sunshine. Their coach Marty Veale told me to introduce myself so I dutifully walked up into the bleachers where he was sitting, watching his club play. "Hi Bill," I said, extended a hand. "I'm Scotty Stevenson, over from New Zealand. How are you doing?"
Without missing a beat he grabbed my hand and said, "I'd be much better if you got out of my f****** way." Then he laughed, popped up a fist bump and carried on watching the game. Later, at the club dinner, I bumped into him again. "You again, Scotty," he said. "Still in my f****** way!"
Later, we sat and filmed an interview together, in the library of the New York Racquet and Tennis Club, and Bill spoke about his life, his love of the game, and his love for his club. It was, and always will be, his club. He defined its passion, its togetherness, its drive, and its aspiration. He loved its members, chairman Brian Murphy, and head coach Marty Veale. He loved anyone who gave their heart and soul to Old Blue, which is what Old Blue members do.
With Bill's passing, all but Paul Zimmerman have gone now; Dr Z the sole survivor in the power rankings of Old Blue's founders. Ah, but their legacy remains, and they will toast the founders next week at the annual club dinner, where a place will be set for The Coach, and where the wild mountain thyme will grow around the blooming heather.