Memories from Bruce’s Xconomy Colleagues

I first met Bruce sometime in early or mid-2008, less than a year after Xconomy had formed. It was around the time of our launch in Seattle, and Xconomy already had its sights set on San Diego. We were on the hunt for the best tech-business journalists in the region, and at the top of a very short list was Bruce. He’d spent the last 18 years at the San Diego Union-Tribune, where he was part of the team that won a 2006 Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting for uncovering bribes paid to Republican U.S. Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham. At the U-T, he had also written about tech, life sciences, energy, and venture capital—pillars of what we cover.

Bruce was a deliberate guy, and no way was he going to jump from a major newspaper to an upstart online publication without a lot of thought. And more thought. And more thought. After months of conversations, I had pretty much given up hope that this guy would ever get off the fence. But we discovered somewhere along the way that one of our board members at the time, Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor, not only knew Bruce, but had close ties to one of Bruce’s key references. As I happily reported to the board that August after Bruce surprised us and accepted, “Bill did the hard sell for us and helped bring him home!” Bruce started with Xconomy the next month, and we launched Xconomy San Diego on October 6, 2008, with him as the founding editor.

I have always marveled at how this old-school print journalist, a breed that isn’t exactly adept at change, made the leap to this online startup with almost no track record. We were in the midst of planning a party this fall to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our San Diego launch. It is unimaginable how we could have gotten this far without Bruce, who is part of the fabric of the local innovation scene—writing stories and planning and overseeing events from private dinners to public half-day forums, like the Big Data Meets Big Biology event he hosted this April. He even helped pioneer several of the event formats we use at Xconomy. One of his ideas was to put different colored dots on people’s badges depending on whether they were from life sciences or tech, an investor, etc. He then told attendees, ‘Go out and meet people with different colored dots than you!’ He literally connected the dots.

—Bob Buderi, Founder and Editor in Chief

The Priest Ranch winery sits on the main drag of Yountville, in the heart of Napa Valley. They say the property was established in the 1860s by a Gold Rush prospector. I couldn’t have known, but this would be the setting for my last and most substantial conversation with Bruce.

It was June 15, and we had just finished our annual Napa Summit event. Bruce and I had an hour before our team dinner, and we had a lot of personal stuff to catch up on. A tasting flight of four wines would come while we talked: a Grenache Blanc, a Brut Rosé, a smoky Cabernet Sauvignon, and a meaty Petite Sirah. I don’t remember the wines that well, but I will never forget what we talked about.

Bruce and I both joined Xconomy in 2008. We worked together closely for a decade. In the early years, I was on the West Coast and got to visit him in San Diego; our wives and families hit it off over dinners and backyard ping-pong. Among other curiosities, Bruce showed us his collection of hand-carved and hand-painted trout (some of which you can see here). In response to my naïve inquiries, he said, “The question isn’t ‘Why fish?’, it’s ‘Why trout?’” (I never got the answer, but several trout calendars followed in the mail.)

In recent years, we mostly talked over the phone and e-mail. I do remember a wonderful dinner sitting at the bar at the old Hungry Mother restaurant in Cambridge. Over bourbon and a southern-style fish (not trout), Bruce relayed stories of his kids—Ben the math whiz, Caitlin the soccer star—and family travels to gorgeous places like Rocky Mountain National Park, Bryce Canyon, Zion. That night, he did something no one else could—gave me hope about being a new parent while still relating deeply to its challenges and despair.

We bonded over music, too. Bruce and I would send each other songs—his usually arrived on CD, while I’d send him links. He introduced me to new ones by Fleet Foxes, Modest Mouse, Au Revoir Simone; I returned the favor with Earlimart, Pedro the Lion, Midlake.

The past couple of years were momentous and difficult. Bruce went through cancer, divorce, family issues, and a major new relationship. That he was able to keep up his work is a testament to his toughness and professionalism. We talked about all those things at the winery, and he shared some revelations from his life. Of course, he asked about mine, too.

Bruce taught me a lot about journalism—how to prioritize information, deal with difficult sources, find an angle, cut to the essence—but what I’ll take away most is about life. Be generous. Be grateful. Try to be optimistic. Talk, really talk, to your kids, your spouse, your family. Don’t make assumptions in your relationships. Communicate what’s important, now.

I thought our wine meeting was special at the time. Now I realize what a gift it was. After our dinner, the Xconomy team made an ice cream run to Gott’s in St. Helena. Bruce wasn’t impressed by his milkshake, but he was never one to complain. He was with a team who loved and respected him—Richard and Lynn, Ashley, Jacquie, and me—chatting about everything from generation gaps to dessert-making to travel. He was going to Las Vegas in a few days, and then off to hike the national parks he loved so much in Utah.

When we said goodbye in the car that night, I gave him a long hug. It will never be enough.

—Greg Huang, Deputy Editor

So sad to hear this. I was able to meet Bruce a couple weeks ago in Napa and before I could even introduce myself, he saw my name badge and hugged me saying, “I feel like I just need to give you a big hug”. It was a privilege to work on so many events with him over the past two years.

–Jacquie Ogonowsky, Events & Marketing Coordinator

I’m so sad to hear this news, I loved Bruce. Every event we worked on together he went above and beyond on—he’d call me to go over new ideas or tell me about the speaker he just recruited. Just a few weeks ago at Napa I had the pleasure of finally meeting him in person and he was just as amazing as I imagined. We bonded over his golden retriever and I learned more about his children. He laughed when I was leading us in the wrong direction to get ice cream, and he finally told us what the “V” in “bvb” stood for, although he didn’t like the name Victor that much. Although I only knew him for a short time, he made a lasting impression.

–Ashley Gentile, Events & Marketing Coordinator

I’m just beyond sad at this whole deal. Bruce was the person who patiently offered tons of wise counsel when I started at Xconomy, and we managed to have a couple of long catch-up conversations each year. I’m so thankful we just had another of those chats a few weeks ago. We only spent time together in person once, in Boston, and what I remember most is the way he talked about his wife and kids with such obvious joy and pride. I’m so glad he spent his final days in beautiful places and among fun people. Rest in paradise, my friend.

—Sarah Schmid Stevenson, Editor, Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor

It was a treat getting to see Bruce in Napa recently. While we were trying to sort out a casual dinner Friday night he managed to come up with a great spot at a casual place with a charming rooftop deck and good Mexican food. The end of that table with his smile and stories is where I’ll keep him for a while—I can pretend his phone is accidentally still on mute while we’re waiting for him to chime in on a conference call, and wondering if he’s still there.

We will miss you Bruce.

—Richard Freierman, Business Manager

Bruce loved being active outdoors—which was easy in San Diego—and loved running. I joined him in several half-marathons and always looked forward to the beers afterward. Bruce was also a skilled woodcarver and focused on carving and hand-painting fish, including many a life-like salmon or trout, which he would display in the living room or out in the yard. He loved dogs. He was a big reader, and I still have a mystery novel that I borrowed from him—too late to return it now, alas. But most of all Bruce loved journalism. He loved doing it, talking about it, and trying to figure out its future. He was proud of the Pulitzer-winning work he’d been part of in San Diego, and he kept in touch with the diaspora of newspaper journalists he’d served with. It was a privilege to work alongside him as one of Xconomy’s West Coast editors.

—Wade Roush, former Chief Correspondent and San Francisco Editor

I have many fond memories of Bruce.

Being from San Diego, I always had fun talking about “local” matters with Bruce, especially re the migration he made as an award-winning writer from the San Diego Union newspaper to Xconomy. The Union has always been sacred to SD people, so when Bob and Bruce worked out a way for him to join Xconomy in 2008, it gave us huge credibility in early days.

What a great guy, what a great writer, raconteur, and host — skills that made Xconomy San Diego a jewel in the crown. His passing, 10 years after its founding, is a marker in our history — I am deeply saddened by his loss, and will miss him.

Best to his family—and eternal thanks to Bruce for all he did!

—William A. Ghormley, Senior Vice President

Once, in the early days when we were working hard to establish the Xconomy San Diego bureau, Bruce invited my wife and I over to his house for dinner. His son, a teenager at the time, was camped out in his bedroom. Bruce walked over, knocked on the door, and introduced us. He asked his son to show us what he was doing. He was playing ‘World of Warcraft’ with friends around the country. Bruce, somewhat perplexed by the popularity of this game, looked at me and asked “Do you know what this is all about?” Me: “Nope.” We shared a laugh. We were well versed in some of the latest tech and biotech innovations, but both clueless about what was popular with teens.

—Luke Timmerman, former National Biotech Editor

Bruce loved people. He was warm and genuine—and this openness drew people to him. I felt it in our phone calls and email exchanges—he had the gift of making everyone feel important and interesting and included. It was part of what made him such an amazing journalist and an amazing connector. When planning events in San Diego, I never worried about filling seats because other people cared about Bruce as much as he cared about them, and I always knew they would show up for him.

At the same time, he was a brilliant journalist. His writing made me laugh, made me think, made me want to learn more.

And, on a more personal note, I remember when his daughter was the photographer for Meet the Xconomists. He was so thrilled to be working with her at the event. You could feel his excitement over the phone and in his emails—his pride in his daughter and in her skills simply poured out of him.

—Thea Bissell, former Marketing and Events Manager

I didn’t know Bruce well enough, but I observed a bit about who he was through our work together. He was patient on our weekly calls, and listened intently to each editor as we discussed our story ideas, so that he could potentially offer perspective. He sometimes would surprise me with e-mails—a source that would fit for a story idea I had mentioned, or a new way to think about the story. He would call when editing an article so we could chat for a few minutes about it—even about just the smallest detail, or to clarify a point. It was something that confused me at first. We could just handle it over e-mail, right?

I came to understand why he made it a point to reach out to his colleagues and break the silent monotony of a home office.

I can’t say that any of this poignantly defines Bruce or his nature. I have read what his friends and family wrote about losing him, and see through their experiences the love and intensity that made him who he was. From my experience with Bruce, I do know that his graciousness and curiosity, his willingness to communicate with others and challenge them, made me feel cared for and motivated.

I am grateful that is something I can carry forward in my work and in the rest of my life.

—David Holley, National Correspondent

I first had the pleasure of meeting Bruce eight years ago while working on a “test” project as part of my interview for a job at Xconomy. He was kind and curious and generous with his time and knowledge. I thankfully got the job, Bruce continued to generously share his decades of editorial experience, and I occasionally helped him find his way around our online publishing system. A few months ago (and several career stops later), I reconnected with Bruce around an event he was planning. He was as thoughtful and creative as ever, and while I didn’t know at the time it would be our last time speaking, I’m thankful to have had this last experience with an old colleague and friend.

Rest In Peace, Bruce.

—Erin (Kutz) Glabets, former Associate Editor Xconomy Boston

Bruce joked that he and I were office “pod-mates” because we were so geographically close to each other—almost the whole length of California! We had our pod-mate chats by phone, mostly, rather than over the cube partitions. But we also got to see each other at Xconomy events.

We had a great roundtrip by car to a Robo Madness, when we discovered a mutual interest in the author Norman Maclean, who wrote the famous book “A River Runs Through It.” I found Maclean, though, through his second book, the stunning Young Men and Fire. If you read this review, you might think of Bruce. It’s a story about a tragedy, but also about a love of nature and the strong people who live in it.

—Bernadette Tansey, San Francisco Editor

As the newest editor on the Xconomy team, I got to speak with Bruce only a few times by phone. But most of those conversations were on the lengthier side, and at the end of one of them, he said to me, out of the blue and very earnestly: “Thank you for everything you’re doing for Xconomy.” I was only a few months into the new job, so this was just so nice to hear. Bruce really made you feel valued and part of the team…something that’s been echoed in many of the other tributes to Bruce from other team members. I wish I could have met him in person.

—Corie Lok, Special Projects Editor

When I met Bruce in 2008 he had about two decades more journalism experience than me and, ya know, a Pulitzer Prize. In fact, at that point he had significantly more experience than anybody on the team besides Bob. But with zero irony he confided later via e-mail that he was “impressed… and a little intimidated by how accomplished” we all were.

I recognize in that exchange the colleague I would grow to know and love over the following decade: self-effacing, unfailingly supportive, and so, so kind. If he ever noticed in the early days of Xconomy that we sometimes had no clue what we were doing he kept it to himself. If he noticed that a colleague had a triumph, big or small—and he always noticed—he made sure we paused to celebrate it. And from day one he treated me like the leader I was only then learning to be.

Bruce was, like a surprising number of tech journalists, fairly hopeless when it came to actually using technology. His struggles with the mute button on conference calls were legendary, his inability to clear his browser cache inspired Alex’s soon-to-be hit song “Shift Refresh”, and his “I broke the website” score was, for a number of years, unrivaled. But he still patiently—and, by some miracle, successfully—helped his colleagues muddle through their own trials with our often vexing publishing system.

Those were the things I knew about. One of the most bittersweet parts of this has been hearing from Xconomy folks past and present all the other things Bruce did behind the scenes to keep in touch with, support, and celebrate his far-flung colleagues. It’s a lesson to me about how to build a team and, really, how to live a life. I will miss him profoundly.

—Rebecca Zacks, Cofounder, COO, Executive Editor

I got to work with Bruce for nearly three years and even though we never met in person, his warmth and zest for life really came through during phone calls, in e-mails, and of course in his coverage of high-tech happenings in San Diego.

I only got to read his opus, “The Toymaker,” after learning of Bruce’s death. I wish I were able to compliment him on the 14-chapter series, which Harvard’s Nieman Storyboard calls a “well-paced, engaging, thoroughly reported profile of a man and his mission to build a better toy.” The piece, published in 1997 by the San Diego Union-Tribune, where Bruce worked for almost two decades, showed me that he was equally adept at crafting detailed, magazine-style features as he was at writing shorter, but nevertheless high-quality daily news stories. Even if you feel like you’re familiar with a colleague’s writing style, reading through his back catalogue might offer a surprise or two.

I would urge anyone who’s never read “The Toymaker” to do so. The piece gives readers a window into the psyche of its subject, Paul Eichen, and what makes him tick. This is the mark of a well-done profile. But it also helped me feel a little better acquainted with Bruce, and the great things he accomplished.

—Jeff Buchanan, Wisconsin Editor

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