Steve Jobs Eulogy by his sister Mona Simpson
I grew up as an only child, with a single mother. Because we were poor and because I knew my father had emigrated from Syria, I imagined he looked like Omar Sharif. I hoped he would be rich and kind and would come into our lives (and our not yet furnished apartment) and help us. Later, after I’d met my father, I tried to believe he’d changed his number and left no forwarding address because he was an idealistic revolutionary, plotting a new world for the Arab people.
Even as a feminist, my whole life I’d been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I’d thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother.
By then, I lived in New York, where I was trying to write my first novel. I had a job at a small magazine in an office the size of a closet, with three other aspiring writers. When one day a lawyer called me — me, the middle-class girl from California who hassled the boss to buy us health insurance — and said his client was rich and famous and was my long-lost brother, the young editors went wild.
This was 1985 and we worked at a cutting-edge literary magazine, but I’d fallen into the plot of a Dickens novel and really, we all loved those best. The lawyer refused to tell me my brother’s name and my colleagues started a betting pool. The leading candidate: John Travolta. I secretly hoped for a literary descendant of Henry James — someone more talented than I, someone brilliant without even trying.
When I met Steve, he was a guy my age in jeans, Arab- or Jewish-looking and handsomer than Omar Sharif.
We took a long walk — something, it happened, that we both liked to do. I don’t remember much of what we said that first day, only that he felt like someone I’d pick to be a friend. He explained that he worked in computers.
I didn’t know much about computers. I still worked on a manual Olivetti typewriter.
I told Steve I’d recently considered my first purchase of a computer: something called the Cromemco.
Steve told me it was a good thing I’d waited. He said he was making something that was going to be insanely beautiful.
I want to tell you a few things I learned from Steve, during three distinct periods, over the 27 years I knew him. They’re not periods of years, but of states of being. His full life. His illness. His dying.
Steve worked at what he loved. He worked really hard. Every day.
That’s incredibly simple, but true.
He was hurt but he still went to work at Next. Every single day.
Steve always aspired to make beautiful later.
Uninvited to the ball, he drove the third or fourth iteration of his same black sports car to Next, where he and his team were quietly inventing the platform on which Tim Berners-Lee would write the program for the World Wide Web.
Steve was like a girl in the amount of time he spent talking about love. Love was his supreme virtue, his god of gods. He tracked and worried about the romantic lives of the people working with him.
Whenever he saw a man he thought a woman might find dashing, he called out, “Hey are you single? Do you wanna come to dinner with my sister?”
I remember when he phoned the day he met Laurene. “There’s this beautiful woman and she’s really smart and she has this dog and I’m going to marry her.”
When Reed was born, he began gushing and never stopped. He was a physical dad, with each of his children. He fretted over Lisa’s boyfriends and Erin’s travel and skirt lengths and Eve’s safety around the horses she adored.
None of us who attended Reed’s graduation party will ever forget the scene of Reed and Steve slow dancing.
His abiding love for Laurene sustained him. He believed that love happened all the time, everywhere. In that most important way, Steve was never ironic, never cynical, never pessimistic. I try to learn from that, still.
Steve had been successful at a young age, and he felt that had isolated him. Most of the choices he made from the time I knew him were designed to dissolve the walls around him. A middle-class boy from Los Altos, he fell in love with a middle-class girl from New Jersey. It was important to both of them to raise Lisa, Reed, Erin and Eve as grounded, normal children. Their house didn’t intimidate with art or polish; in fact, for many of the first years I knew Steve and Lo together, dinner was served on the grass, and sometimes consisted of just one vegetable. Lots of that one vegetable. But one. Broccoli. In season. Simply prepared. With just the right, recently snipped, herb.
Even as a young millionaire, Steve always picked me up at the airport. He’d be standing there in his jeans.
When a family member called him at work, his secretary Linetta answered,
“Your dad’s in a meeting. Would you like me to interrupt him?”
They once embarked on a kitchen remodel; it took years. They cooked on a
hotplate in the garage. The Pixar building, under construction during the same
period, finished in half the time. And that was it for the Palo Alto house. The
bathrooms stayed old. But — and this was a crucial distinction — it had been a
great house to start with; Steve saw to that.
Steve was humble. Steve liked to keep learning.
He had surprises tucked in all his pockets. I’ll venture that Laurene will discover treats — songs he loved, a poem he cut out and put in a drawer — even after 20 years of an exceptionally close marriage. I spoke to him every other day or so, but when I opened The New York Times and saw a feature on the company’s patents, I was still surprised and delighted to see a sketch for a perfect staircase.
With his four children, with his wife, with all of us, Steve had a lot of fun.
He treasured happiness.
Eventually, even ordinary pleasures, like a good peach, no longer appealed to
I remember my brother learning to walk again, with a chair. After his liver
transplant, once a day he would get up on legs that seemed too thin to bear him,
arms pitched to the chair back. He’d push that chair down the Memphis hospital
corridor towards the nursing station and then he’d sit down on the chair, rest,
turn around and walk back again. He counted his steps and, each day, pressed a
little farther.Laurene got down on her knees and looked into his eyes.
I realized during that terrifying time that Steve was not enduring the pain for himself. He set destinations: his son Reed’s graduation from high school, his daughter Erin’s trip to Kyoto, the launching of a boat he was building on which he planned to take his family around the world and where he hoped he and Laurene would someday retire.
Even ill, his taste, his discrimination and his judgment held. He went through 67 nurses before finding kindred spirits and then he completely trusted the three who stayed with him to the end. Tracy. Arturo. Elham.
One time when Steve had contracted a tenacious pneumonia his doctor forbid
everything — even ice. We were in a standard I.C.U. unit. Steve, who generally
disliked cutting in line or dropping his own name, confessed that this once,
he’d like to be treated a little specially.
We all — in the end — die in medias res. In the middle of a story. Of many
What I learned from my brother’s death was that character is essential: What he was, was how he died.
Tuesday morning, he called me to ask me to hurry up to Palo Alto. His tone was affectionate, dear, loving, but like someone whose luggage was already strapped onto the vehicle, who was already on the beginning of his journey, even as he was sorry, truly deeply sorry, to be leaving us.
He started his farewell and I stopped him. I said, “Wait. I’m coming. I’m in a
taxi to the airport. I’ll be there.”
Until about 2 in the afternoon, his wife could rouse him, to talk to his friends
His breathing changed. It became severe, deliberate, purposeful. I could feel him counting his steps again, pushing farther than before.
This is what I learned: he was working at this, too. Death didn’t happen to Steve, he achieved it.
He told me, when he was saying goodbye and telling me he was sorry, so sorry we
wouldn’t be able to be old together as we’d always planned, that he was going to
a better place.
He made it through the night, Laurene next to him on the bed sometimes jerked up when there was a longer pause between his breaths. She and I looked at each other, then he would heave a deep breath and begin again.
This had to be done. Even now, he had a stern, still handsome profile, the
profile of an absolutist, a romantic. His breath indicated an arduous journey,
some steep path, altitude.
But with that will, that work ethic, that strength, there was also sweet
Steve’s capacity for wonderment, the artist’s belief in the ideal, the still
more beautiful later.
Before embarking, he’d looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life’s partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them.
Steve’s final words were: