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My Neighbor, Steve Jobs

His legacy is more than what we see In the headlines.

My neighbor, Steve Jobs, has been in the news lately. The talk of the town is the recent announcement he will be stepping aside to let other seeds grow at Apple. The business press, the general press, the blogosphere, and just about everybody else has waxed poetic about the “greatest CEO of all time” saying that this “boy wonder” has shaped the very nature of our lives with his genius. 

It’s all true, but here in Palo Alto, Steve Jobs isn’t just an icon, he’s also the guy who lives down the street. 

I first met Steve (does anyone call him Mr. Jobs anymore?) years ago at a backyard pool party. I was so flummoxed by the off chance I was breathing in his DNA, I could barely say a word. I am sure I made a winning first impression as I stumbled over my own name when we were introduced. 

I watched as he swam in the pool with his son. He seemed like a regular guy, a good dad having fun with his kids. 

The next time I met him was when our children attended school together. He sat in on back-to-school night listening to the teacher drone on about the value of education (wait, isn’t he one of those high-tech gods who didn’t even graduate from college?) while the rest of us sat around pretending having Steve Jobs in the room was totally normal. 

Not long after, I saw Steve as I was running in our neighborhood. He was deep in conversation with a younger version of himself—his very own mini-me in jeans, black T-shirt, and wire-rimmed glasses. I must have looked like an idiot as I tripped over a crack in the pavement trying to give them wide berth.

It was at Halloween not long after when I realized he actually knew my name (yes, my name!). He and his wife put on a darn scary haunted house (to be specific, a haunted garden). He was sitting on the walkway, dressed like Frankenstein. As I walked by with my son, Steve smiled and said, “Hi Lisen.” My son thought I was the coolest mom in town when he realized The Steve Jobs knew me. 

Thanks for the coolness points, Steve.

From then on, when I saw him holding his executive meetings in our neighborhood, I didn’t hesitate to smile and say hi. Steve always returned the favor, proving he may be a genius, but he is also a good neighbor.

In time, things changed. The walks were less frequent, the gait slower, the smile not so ready. Earlier this year, when I saw Steve and his wife walking down our street holding hands, I knew something was different. Now, so does the rest of the world.

While Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal and CNET continue to drone on about the impact of the Steve Jobs era, I won’t be pondering the MacBook Air I write on or the iPhone I talk on. I will think of the day I saw him at his son’s high school graduation. There Steve stood, tears streaming down his cheeks, his smile wide and proud, as his son received his diploma and walked on into his own bright future, leaving behind a good man and a good father who can be sure of the rightness of this, perhaps his most important legacy of all.

 

UPDATE:

Steve Jobs passed away Wednesday, October 5, 2011. Palo Alto Patch has opened a tribute page for him, .

Peter Anderson August 31, 2011 at 09:50 PM
@ Eli Did you stop to think that maybe, just maybe, he has been a very generous person philanthropically but prefers to remain anonymous while doing so? We all have a right to privacy and there are those who do not need or want the notoriety.
JS August 31, 2011 at 09:58 PM
More than 10 years ago, after Steve had returned to Apple, I was working for a company that supplied key semiconductor components to the Macs, when the son of one of our engineers was diagnosed with Leukemia. While receiving the treatment, a major Apple trade show was to take place, and top brass of the company was flying in with the corporate jet. One of the seats was available, so they invited the young man to come along (avoiding exposure to crowds, as needed) and see Steve Jobs do his trademark presentation. As Steve learned about his trip to the convention, he pulled the young man aside in a separate room for a one-on-one 'let's talk'. At that moment, it was not "The Steve" talking to a 'lesser being' but steve (lower case) talking to someone who had a lot to ask and talk, from Macs to cancer to other subjects. He showed his human side, just like our neighbor. The young man made a full recovery, graduated from college and life went on, but I'm sure that meeting is one he won't soon forget. (no names mentioned on purpose)
Diana Cecilia Torres Alvarez August 31, 2011 at 10:19 PM
Great story I´ll share with my students. Best wishes from Mexico!
TerryO August 31, 2011 at 11:00 PM
I don't live in his neighborhood either. I live mainly in Alaska, but I still consider Mr. Jobs a great neighbor and citizen. You see I learned late in life that I had some different abilities. I am dyslexic and ADD, but thanks to the technology that Apple created I have gotten around my lesser abilities. I finally learned to type at 35 while working in a fairly responsible position in government. It was a keyboard layout called DVORAK and it was on a Mac SE. Apple's products just made dealing with my weak areas much more simple and fun! And of course, I was much more productive. Prior to using a Mac, I couldn't write clearly, so when I discovered the Mac it became a joyful chore. Now, I'm a pretty fair writer. I still need to edit, but my writing has improved so dramatically. When the iPhone was produced I was a purchaser as soon as possible and I learned of wonderful APPs that would be useful to me. Although my iPhone was stolen, I next got an iPad2. I'm in college at 58 finally finishing a degree which should have been done many, many years ago. This time around college is a joy and I'm lots better at it. My iPad2 reads my texts for me which is a God-send for those with my traits. Although reading remains a challenge, I no longer have to work six times as hard as others to produce the same work product. This is part is due to the efforts of my long time friend and neighbor. Thanks Steve and family.
Jim W. August 31, 2011 at 11:09 PM
Steve Jobs has given us Apple. Isn' that enough Eli?Could we have existed solely with PCs and Windows?
robbierotton September 01, 2011 at 12:20 AM
Do you share your money with people less fortunate then you Elli? What percentage of funds did you donate in the 2010 tax year??
Dearg OBartuin September 01, 2011 at 01:23 AM
Lisen, amazing insight, we all have so mich to say thank you to Steve for. I dont want your comments to turn into another obituary, found on almost every other news source so all i will say is Steve Jobs the career man AND Steve Jobs the family man will stand with the test of time for hundreds of years. @Eli you miss the point my friend! As an Apple shareholder i dont want my money being donated to charity. Apple should not EVER spend investors money on anything other than the improvment and growth of Apple. Steve Jobs and i share one thing in common although we never met. Any charitable donations are left up to the individual and best kept private otherwise it doesnt count. Bill & Milinda Gates do wonderful things and we all support them fully. Notice however Bill resigned hos position and used his personal wealth not the profits of Mocrosoft for charitble needs. On a final note its a shame you felt the need to express your opinion at all. But again.... Thats your choice too.
Greg Hoyt September 01, 2011 at 03:10 AM
This comment is not to detract from Steve Job’s visionary qualities, rescuing a broken Apple Inc., & his devotion to his family. But if Steve Jobs is such a family man & visionary, why hasn’t he had the guts to improve oversight of Apple's manufactur­ing process? Especially since real Family Values extend beyond our shores. Examples of labor abuse: Google Global Post's article on 167 Wintel factory workers in Suzhou poisoned two years ago by toxic chemicals at the factory. They wrote Steve Jobs for improved working conditions to prevent future re-occurre­nces but haven’t heard from him. And then there was the Foxconn debacle in China with workers throwing themselves off a factory building, committing suicide due to the monotonous piece work to build iPods, iPhones. Solution? Build nets at the bottom of the building to catch the suicides. Yep, little pay bump and nets to catch the suicides “solved” it. And the child labor, Google Apple's sweatshops. E.g. fortune.­cnn.com (sweatshop­-report). With record profits and making fat cats even richer, this is the height of hypocrisy. Personally­, I couldn’t live with myself if I was in Apple management knowing this was happening. It’s all about the Bottom Line and not Humankind. They market progressiv­e values but have the ethics of Wal-Mart, BP, Valero, & Exxon. When will this ever end?
robbierotton September 01, 2011 at 03:47 AM
To Greg Hoyt What makes you think Apple's Chinese contracted factories. Have any worse working conditions then a Chinese factory, contracted to make HP computers?? In fact Apple has gone to great lengths to try and ''force'' factory owners to follow guidelines. Example, While HP may contract a factory to make 10,000 tablet computers. Apple has contracts for 500,000 ipads. It's just mathematics, things can go wrong. If you want to blame someone for poor working conditions in China write a letter to foxcon and the PRC.
David Eckoff September 01, 2011 at 06:28 AM
Lisa, a wonderful and unique article. Really enjoyed reading it.
Christina Linda Lopez September 01, 2011 at 07:14 AM
Lisen, Like most people on this page, I thoroughly enjoyed your article on Steve Jobs. I loved how you captured who Steve Jobs is, from a neighbor and community-member perspective. Thank you for sharing a small glimpse into the kind of man Steve is. If possible, I'd love to share a cup of coffee with you and talk about how you were able to write such an incredible piece. Although I've never met you, I, too, am a journalist. Only, I'm a grad student studying journalism just across the bay at UC Berkeley. After reading this article, I immediately posted it on my own Facebook page so that my colleagues at the J-School can read this and understand that good journalism still exists. From one journalist to another, thank you. Sincerely, Christina Lopez lopez.l.christina@gmail.com
Regalmouse Themouseking September 01, 2011 at 11:37 AM
Great! Now he's gonna feel even more isolated knowing that his own neighbors are now likely to report on his private comings and goings. This isn't about Jobs, it's about you.
Robyn Anonymous September 01, 2011 at 02:29 PM
It's a wonderful essay, bringing another perspective on the man who so often has been characterized as a tyrannical, irascible, and merciless corporate leader. Clearly, it's much better to be his neighbor than to be in his line of fire on the job! While we don't know about Jobs's philanthropy, let us not kid ourselves that the Gates Foundation only does good! Its latest approach to school reform--high-tech, high-stakes testing, teacher evaluation through accountability systems--is wrong-headed and harmful. It is undermining good education. Anyone who wants to learn more should read the educator and historian Diane Ravitch's latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. Chapter 10, the "Billionaires Boys' Club", is an eye-opener. It details how 3 major corporate foundations have set the national school reform agenda and undermined genuine teaching and learning.
Neil Fiertel September 01, 2011 at 04:31 PM
I do not know if Mr. Jobs will read this but in case he does I wanted him to know this. I abortively tried using computers in 1986. Gave up after a few months of frustration and then once again in 1995 I did so again but this time it was a Mac and, well, Mr. Jobs, the Mac changed my life and that is not an overstatement. I am an artist and without the natural Mac environment to work within, I would never have contemplated doing what I have been doing these many years. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and now that I am a old guy still working as an artist I can say with surety that yes, I owe the pleasures of a creative old age to his insight, certainty of purpose and brilliance.I saw him on a video supporting the organ transplant program with the former governor of Caliofornia and noted he seemed modest and really uncomfortable with compliments and the aura that people imagine for him. I felt empathy for this man and as an artist who must see what is there, in nature, I can report back that I saw a man who knows where he is standing in the universe...just a man, not some luminary and not some god. For some he is a neighbor and for me, he is a person who has helped me and millions of others embrace technologies that have literally changed humanity. No small thing, Mr. Jobs. I wish you health and a long life.
Janice Lehne September 01, 2011 at 04:37 PM
Really enjoyed your article, Lisen...I may not be Steve's neighbor but certainly feel close to him as he has been a part of my family for the past 23 years and has changed my life. As he presents his keynotes, his apparent joy of the new Apple products is so contagious I can't help but feel the same excitement. I have followed his career and was overjoyed when he came back to Apple. No other company has ever developed such a loyal following. Every product may not have been perfect, but it was always so much better than anything else out there...did the job and was fun to use. I have been a Mac instructor for over 23 years, and use an Apple products in my daily life, both personal and business and can't thank Steve and Apple enough for providing me with such wonderful, exciting, beautifully designed and, yes, even what seem magical, devices to work with and share with my clients. I wish Steve and his family the very best as he goes through this transition. Janice Lehne
Kiran Tandon September 02, 2011 at 04:13 AM
Enjoyed reading this article. Thank you Lisen. And maybe I should add that Bono, the lead singer for U2 has today publicly thanked Steve Jobs for the tens of millions of dollars that he and Apple have donated to Red (the charity that Bono founded) for HIV testing, malaria and Tuberculosis in Africa thus saving more than 2 million lives. the letter is in today's New York Times, and Steve is called "generous and poetic". Eli might want to read that for another pov. I do admire the Steve Jobs and wish him equilibrium and contentment in his personal space. Thank you for the music Mr Jobs.
Jon September 02, 2011 at 04:29 PM
Just found this article on google+. Really beautiful, thank you!
robbierotton September 02, 2011 at 06:41 PM
I saw this on macrumors.com this morning. http://www.macrumors.com/2011/09/02/bono-defends-steve-jobs-against-criticism-over-lack-of-public-philanthropy/ It does point out that Apple is product RED's biggest contributors. It also mentions that Steve has been very focused on building Apple and his Family. Thats just how he is. He gives it his all 100% all time. Right up to the point of keeling over from sickness. The dude almost died from cancer and went right back to work which is his labor of love. Maybe Steve had plans for being philanthropic when he retired. After he was finished building his empire and legacy? Mr. Gates has been gone from microsoft for 10 years or more as of now. He's got time to kill and money to burn. So he gets fly around the world and help make a difference.
Matt Sarps September 03, 2011 at 09:07 AM
What did you expect? Given his history, growing up in a normal suburban environment, why would he behave otherwise? The meglomaniac Steve we read about I would attribute to media baloney - probably more accurate is his unbelievably high standards and attention to detail in the workplace, which probably comes across to many as arrogance and 'control freak'. If he didn't exhibit these characteristics at work, where would Apple be now? Still, it's good to know what I always figured - he's a nice guy outside the office :)
jeff parness October 06, 2011 at 12:54 AM
I am probably one of tens of millions - perhaps hundreds of millions - of people whose life path was altered by the visionary work of Steve Jobs. A month after graduating college, I quit a traditional job to start a publishing business - check that - SELF publishing business, and my one and only partner was my Macintosh computer loaded with an early version of PageMaker. Truth be told, I sucked at PageMaker and never made any real money to speak of. But the greatest success was SEEING THE POSSIBILITIES of a limitless, entrepreneurial future aided by a simple little machine with 128K memory that turned my creative ideas into tangible reality. You changed many lives Steve Jobs. THANK YOU. Jeff Parness Founder & Chairman New York Says Thank You Foundation www.NewYorkSaysThankYou.org
Carl Doughty October 06, 2011 at 05:18 AM
Carl Doughty I posted this link last night for my Facebook friends after reading it, something about how it ended it made me say "oh no there truly is a finality here we must face", alas it was true ..and now today we have lost the neighbor, the friend, the bad boy, and the unequaled genius of our generation. Thank you Lisen for sharing this personal story with all of us.
Michael October 06, 2011 at 03:28 PM
Thank you, Steve for all your contributions, sorry about that article where I criticized you for not being philanthrophic, Bono has set the record straight. I checked it out after reading his words in Macrumor. I wish you a pleasant journey, and I know that where ever you are, things are really going to see a change. You were like that. Michael
Michael October 06, 2011 at 03:28 PM
Thank you, Steve for all your contributions, sorry about that article where I criticized you for not being philanthrophic, Bono has set the record straight. I checked it out after reading his words in Macrumor. I wish you a pleasant journey, and I know that where ever you are, things are really going to see a change. You were like that. Michael
Birdo October 06, 2011 at 03:59 PM
I read this article a few weeks ago, but today it's just the type of personal piece to reminds everyone that he was just a dad, friend and neighbor as well. RIP Mr. Jobs.
Matt Sarps October 06, 2011 at 06:10 PM
I'm so glad my comment I posted above was appropriate, as the passing of Steve Jobs is so exceptionally sad. However, in terms of the contribution made to the world, he has more than put in his fair share of effort. It may have just been computers, phones and music players, but those products bought joy to millions. What more can a person ask in their lives, other than to bring happiness to others? Steve Jobs did that and he will be sorely missed.
Cindy Ashley October 06, 2011 at 08:58 PM
I'm glad I found this article. I too was struck with such sadness when I heard the news ... a sadness that surprised me as I knew Steve Jobs not at all but still was touched by his contributions, large and small and awed by the man, his spirit and humanity.
JOHN WALKER October 07, 2011 at 06:02 AM
As the foster father for more than 300 infants over 20 years, I reflected upon the joy that Steve's adoptive parents must have had with seeing this young child they made their own become the adult who gave the world so much (ideas, instruments of learning, tens of thousands of jobs). There are so many of our children waiting to be adopted and loved as Steve's loved him. Don't wait. John Walker, Windermere, FL
steven mandzik October 07, 2011 at 10:29 PM
I love it: "his very own mini-me in jeans, black T-shirt, and wire-rimmed glasses." I wish the best for the family. Steve http://1X57.com
Tm Craig October 08, 2011 at 10:53 AM
I equate my admiration for Apple the way a sports fan stays devoted to his team -- through thick and thin. That's because I remember the rough years. I remember the draught. It was the late 80s/early 90s and the PC market was at its height, and once-pure Apple devotees were jumping ship to Dell and HP. I can't say I blame them entirely. The Mac had fewer applications, fewer games,and was incompatibles with just about every non-Mac system. But I stuck with Apple--my entire life--and 25 years later I now know why. It was Steve Jobs' insane attention to detail and perfection that bred in me an allegiance to the Mac OS. No matter how incompatible or expensive my Macs were over the years, I saw in the Mac OS a system was simply better, hands down. And I defended that position, and still am, for years. Steve built a better mousetrap ... for the PC market, the portable music market, the cellphone market, and the tablet market. I just pray that there are others in the Apple ranks that are able to carry on Jobs' vision, for the benefit of my kids' generation. Apple was everything to my generation, and now I'm realizing just how much Jobs shaped my life. Pretty amazing! TC, New York. 7/23/68
Michael October 12, 2011 at 10:24 PM
A Wonderfully fresh perspective. Thank You

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