In Memoriam: Gervase Markham

Sunday 29 July 2018 by Bradley M. Kuhn

Yesterday, we lost an important member of the FLOSS community. Gervase Markham finally succumbed to his battle with cancer (specifically, metastatic adenoid cystic carcinoma).

I met Gerv in the early 2000s, after he'd already been diagnosed. He has always been very public about his illness. He was frank with all who knew him that his life expectancy was sadly well below average due to that illness. So, this outcome isn't a surprise nor a shock, but it is nevertheless sad and unfortunate for all who knew him.

I really liked Gerv. I found him insightful and thoughtful. His insatiable curiosity for my primary field — FLOSS licensing — was a source of enjoyment for me in our many conversations on the subject. Gerv was always Socratic in his approach: he asked questions, rather than make statements, even when it was pretty obvious he had an answer of his own; he liked to spark debate and seek conversation. He thoughtfully considered the opinions of others and I many times saw his positions change based on new information. I considered him open-minded and an important contributor to FLOSS licensing thought.

I bring up Gerv's open-mindedness because I know that many people didn't find him so, but, frankly, I think those folks were mistaken. It is well documented publicly that Gerv held what most would consider particularly “conservative values”. And, I'll continue with more frankness: I found a few of Gerv's views offensive and morally wrong. But Gerv was also someone who could respectfully communicate his views. I never felt the need to avoid speaking with him or otherwise distance myself. Even if a particular position offended me, it was nevertheless clear to me that Gerv had come to his conclusions by starting from his (a priori) care and concern for all of humanity. Also, I could simply say to Gerv: I really disagree with that so much, and if it became clear our views were just too far apart to productively discuss the matter further, he'd happily and collaboratively find another subject for us to discuss. Gerv was a reasonable man. He could set aside fundamental disagreements and find common ground to talk with, collaborate with, and befriend those who disagreed with him. That level of kindness and openness is rarely seen in our current times.

In fact, Gerv gave me a huge gift without even knowing it: he really helped me understand myself better. Specifically, I have for decades publicly stated my belief that the creation and promulgation of proprietary software is an immoral and harmful act. I am aware that many people (e.g., proprietary software developers) consider that view offensive. I learned much from Gerv about how to productively live in a world where the majority are offended by my deeply held, morally-founded and well-considered beliefs. Gerv taught me how to work positively, productively and in a friendly way alongside others who are offended by my most deeply-held convictions. While I mourn the loss of Gerv today, I am so glad that I had that opportunity to learn from him. I am grateful for the life he had and his work.

Gerv's time with us was too short. In response, I suggest that we look at his life and work and learn from his example. Gerv set aside his illness for as long as possible to continue good work in FLOSS. If he can do that, we can all be inspired by him to set aside virtually any problem to work hard, together, for important outcomes that are bigger than us all.

[Finally, I should note that the text above was vetted and approved by Gerv, a few months ago, before his death. I am also very impressed that he planned so carefully for his own death that he contacted Conservancy to seek to assign his copyrights for safe keeping and took the time to review and comment on the text above. ]

Posted on Sunday 29 July 2018 at 21:30 by Bradley M. Kuhn.

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Both previously and presently, I have been employed by and/or done work for various organizations that also have views on Free, Libre, and Open Source Software. As should be blatantly obvious, this is my website, not theirs, so please do not assume views and opinions here belong to any such organization. Since I do co-own with my wife, it may not be so obvious that these aren't her views and opinions, either.

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