Almost as soon as the event was over, this blog post appeared on the NY Times site:
The author neglected to mention that in addition to the fact that “The audience was a cross-section of the computer industry’s best and brightest”, it also included regular people, like me. I flew down to the Bay Area on Friday with my husband, and spent the day on the UC Berkeley campus, where I had been a student for 8 years, and lecturer for another 4. Although I was not there concurrently with Jim, we had many professors and colleagues in common. Attending the tribute and the technical sessions afterwards was an awesome experience.
At end of morning, we had about 15 minutes before lunch, right after a couple of speakers were sharing about Jim's early days at IBM and Tandem. The moderator, Mike Stonebraker, asked audience members to share their stories and recollections of Jim from the 70's and 80's. I assumed there would be another chance in the afternoon for people to share stories from the 90's and beyond, but that didn't happen. So I will share my story here.
As I was finishing my first book (upgrading Ron Soukup's Inside SQL Server, from version 6.5 to version 7) I needed to find someone to write the foreword. Jim Gray, who I only knew about from his book, had written the foreword to the 6.5 edition, and I asked a few colleagues at Microsoft if they thought he might agree to write a foreword for me. I was encouraged to contact him, and right after I sent the email to him, I discovered that he had just been awarded the Turing Award! Well of course, I couldn't expect that a Turing Award winner would respond to an email from a nobody like me, so I started looking around for someone else. I didn't spend long in the search, because Jim responded in a day, saying he'd be delighted to write the foreword, and also asking if I was going to be at the PASS conference.
This was in 1998, and the very first PASS conference was being held in Chicago. I told him I was going to be there, and he suggested getting together for coffee. What could I say but "OK"?
I arrived in Chicago late in the evening and stumbled into a strange hotel and went to bed. Chicago was 2-hours earlier than my normal time zone, so I planned on sleeping until 8:30. At 7 AM, the phone rang. To the day, I clearly remember my impulse to shout into the phone "What in &#%* do you want at this ungodly hour in the morning?" But I stifled that impulse, and to this day I am grateful to my guardian angel for that decision. Because, as I'm sure you guessed, it was Jim. In a bright and chipper voice he asked "Would you like to go get a cup of coffee now?". Of course, I REALLY needed some. So we had coffee. And a wonderful meeting. I still think about that phone call, and try to remember to always answer the phone cheerfully, because you never know who is calling. I'm not always successful, but I try. And knowing Jim, and based on what I heard about on Saturday, I would guess that even if I hadn't stifled my first impulse, Jim would have forgiven me. He would have just apologized for the early call, and asked me out for coffee anyway.
I met with Jim several more times after that over the years, including once by accident in the Microsoft cafeteria. He asked me to join him for lunch. I imagined he would be lunching with a group of people and was asking me to join the group, but it turned out he was by himself and just wanted someone to sit with. I was glad I was there. We talked about teaching and training, and how amazing he found it that some people could actually type while they talked!
I just searched and found over 20 emails from Jim still in my Outlook folders, and in fact he's under 500 in my Xobni rankings. I doubt I'll ever be able to delete those mails.
So Jim did write the foreword for my first book, as you can see:
He also wrote the foreword for my next 2 books. But by the one after that, he was gone. So I dedicated that book to him.
You can read about Jim's accomplishments on his site at Microsoft Research: