Thursday, April 24, 2008

In Remembrance: Stan Flack & Josh Taylor

It may seem odd to mourn the passing of two Canadian friends having only been here for so short a time, but one was an old buddy and the other a new pal. Both had large “extended” families, and both will be missed by those who knew them.

Stan Flack was an old editor of mine, the founder of the first big Mac news site called MacCentral back in the mid-90s. He was one of the first of the breed later known as “internet entrepreneurs” and what impressed me about was that they really worked on building a rapport with their audience, something that is now de rigeur for popular sites but a lesson the mainstream media still (to this day!) haven't really learned.

I wrote for MacCentral in the mid-to-late 90s, never earning much more than a free trip or two to MacWorld Expo (but boy did they treat me nicely, fancy hotel and everything!). He finally sold the site to MacWorld -- again, one of the first to pull off such a deal -- and spent some time traveling the world. A couple years later, the itch got to him again and he started a new Mac news site -- -- that will hopefully continue in his absence. Our relationship was mostly “virtual” -- I only met him in person a few times at Macworlds -- but his energy and enthusiasm were highly contagious. He had a positive blind faith (or a great sniffer for talent) in his people, and his many alumni are most of the big names in Mac journalism today. He died rather suddenly (merely 42 years old) from a liver disease in Prince Edward Island (or PEI as Canadians call it), having been born in Nova Scotia. It is so sad that he left us far too early and so unexpectedly.

Joshua Taylor's death is also an unexpected tragedy, but for entirely different reasons. We met Josh as a staple of the “Friday Night Group” -- a gathering of friends of Christian and Sarah every week for dinner and board games here in Victoria. Josh (born in Vancouver) never failed to attend these parties, and I could tell immediately that he was a lovable sweetheart of a guy, but that there was a lot going on underneath the surface. We chatted about his obsession with gaming, particularly World of Warcraft, but I never got the impression that he was one of those “Type A’s” you run into in the gaming worlds. He loved a good matchup, no doubt about it, but winning wasn't the goal as much as playing, it seemed to me.

Over time, bits of Josh’s history got mentioned, and a portrait of a troubled man began to emerge. He had been in the Canadian Navy, had served in Afghanistan and had done well for himself, but something happened out there and he developed mental problems, leading to his eventual disability and discharge. Though there was never any trace of instability at our Friday night meetings, there was always a lingering despondency about his situation -- unable to work or really move forward with his life. I figured he’d eventually meet a girl who liked gaming and the rest of would sort itself out. He certainly had the capacity for happiness and love, as evidenced by the strong comraderie of our little group (which, I later found out, was the highlight of his week).

I would occasionally see Josh outside the Friday night dinners, and again all seemed normal. He lived in a comfortable “bachelor pad” with a roommate and the requisite electronic arsenal of your average 30-something gamer male. His image was casual and that “never left college” youthful look, complete with grunge wardrobe. On what turned out to be our last visit together, he told the story of recently being forced to buy an actual suit by his grandmother so that he could attend a wedding. He said the suit really looked good on him.

I got to see it at his memorial service. He was right.

About a week ago, Josh took his own life. We all have our theories about it, but as best we can figure, he just couldn’t deal with the struggle of mental illness, forever having to deal with strong medications and the lost dream of having a military career (his goal since childhood) or the normal life most of us will obtain. He had (I later learned) attempted suicide before, but the friendship and good cheer offered by his friends and the Friday night dinners seemed to keep him off the edge, at least for a while.

We were lucky to have known him while we did, we are sorry at his passing, and our hearts go out to his family. Our Friday night dinners will continue, but they will never be quite the same.


Stephen Pate said...

Nice piece on your two friends.

I'd heard about Stan Flack's death. Your writing made it seem sadder.

Joshua Taylor's death is sadder again. Despite friendship some struggle on alone inside. I wonder if we really understand the effect war has on people?

Anonymous said...

I am so happy to have found this, it really touched my heart and brings tears to my eyes to know that Josh was cared about in this way by his friends...

I am one of his sisters. I am at work right now and was thinking about Josh, as the time nears when it all happened I seem to think about him much more.

The pain of missing him gave me the idea of typing his name into google to see if there was anything out there about him that would comfort me, and then I found this site.

Thank you so much for your kind words.