An Homage to Larry Bock, Who Had God’s Hand on His Shoulder

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San Diego entrepreneurs to start a company around their idea for connecting blind or low-vision users wearing Google Glass with a control center, where Internet-enabled agents could guide them to their destination like air traffic controllers.

One of those entrepreneurs was Suman Kanuganti, who left his job at Intuit to launch the visual assistance startup, called Aira, along with Yuja Chang. Kanuganti said Bock spent much of his time over the past two years helping them. “He was more than a mentor to me, and the fact that he’s not around now just freaks me out,” Kanuganti said. In a memorial blog Friday, Kanuganti wrote that Bock’s involvement was key to Aira’s early development and fund-raising.

As the CEO of an innovative technology startup, Kanuganti wrote that Bock taught him specifically to: focus on the details; never to assume anything; save every penny; always be prepared; gain respect by showing it, not by asking for it; and to never say no to accepting money from a worthy investor.

In recent years, Bock also was the founder and principal of Science Spark, a nonprofit outreach organization created to engage youngsters in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and the USA Science & Engineering Festival—which he started in Washington, DC, after falling out with UC San Diego over control of the San Diego Science Festival following its successful debut in 2008. He had a vast capacity for accomplishing things.

Larry Bock USA Science & Engineering Festival

Larry Bock at USA Science & Engineering Festival (photo courtesy Lockheed Martin)

“Forgive me for being immodest, but the part that is even more remarkable is that the festival and the companies he started were great big deals,” Diane Bock said. “And a lot of the time, he was sitting in our kitchen in his pajamas. He relished being at home. He loved our kids.”

She described him as “a typical over-achiever.” While his job frequently took him away from home for days at a time, she said, “the good news was that his job was so haphazard that when he was home, he could go to events at school in the middle of the day. I think he often was the only dad there.”

The man she married in 1986 was born in Brooklyn, and grew up in Chappaqua, NY. He attended Horace Greeley High School and Bowdoin College, where he majored in biochemistry. A friend from those days remembered on Facebook last week that Bock drove a beat-up Toyota with an inordinately large kayak rack. He also could ski down a snowy mountain in the blink of an eye.

He planned to be a doctor, and applied to 14 medical schools. He was crushed when they all rejected him.

“He always thought he was a very good student,” Diane Bock recalled. “He was surprised and chagrined that he didn’t get into medical school. It sort of turned him upside down. He didn’t have a plan ‘B.’”

She said he “kind of blundered into the job at Genentech,” as a researcher working on infectious diseases, “and he thanked his lucky stars because he just loved that job.” At Genentech, Bock became interested in the business side of science. He also worked on the team at Genentech that received the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize for demonstrating the world’s first recombinant DNA vaccine.

From there, he attended business school at UCLA, where he graduated in 1985. At age 28, Bock founded his first company—Athena Neurosciences—and later took it public. Elan acquired the company in 1996 for $625 million.

“He used to say that God had his hand on his shoulder when he didn’t get into medical school,” Diane Bock said.

Larry and Diane Bock last year. (Photo courtesy Quincy Bock)

Larry and Diane Bock last year.

Larry and Diane Bock had two girls, Quincy and Tasha. Quincy was married to John Stokes in the family’s back yard last October. In their planning for the wedding, Quincy wrote in an e-mail to me that her dad had numerous “excellent ideas” that added to the celebration.

“Most notable I think were the spectacular lights he installed all around the backyard and around the trees,” she wrote. “Our wedding was in no way negatively affected by my dad’s cancer. If anything, it probably made us appreciate the sweetness of all being together even more.”

The family is planning a memorial service for Larry Bock at their home on July 23rd.

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