This string of words are of the type one hopes to avoid, but is inevitable if we live long enough.
I received a call from Russell Borland’s wife Loretta yesterday sharing the painful news that Russell had suddenly passed from this earth this Memorial Day weekend at their home in northern California.
Russell and I had been friends since he was a regular customer of a business my wife and I owned in Washington nearly 30 years ago; one of very few who also became close friends. When I first met Russell he was working for a start-up software company few had yet heard of. The early 1980s were busy for us both. I was running a more traditional small business while Russell was deeply engaged at Microsoft with young teams in developing products that most of us have been using every day since.
We found commonality in many areas, including a passion for learning, work, meritocracy, and justice. If not for his practical side, Russell could have been a great professor as he enjoyed teaching and mentoring inquisitive minds, including my own. During conversations he was a living encyclopedia; one with a healthy sense of humor, irony, and satire that cannot be replicated with computers.
Russell was exceptionally intelligent even for academics who like himself “received entirely too much education”, and because of his intellect he thought labels were a necessary evil for categorization, although he was unimpressed with social classifications that often lead to injustice. Not only did he not wear his PhD from the University of Washington on his sleeves, I only discovered it after we had been friends for two years. Oh how many have I known who could learn much from Russell Borland?
When it came time to convert my consulting firm to one of the first incubators in the Internet era, I called Russell first and he became an angel investor and advisor that lasted through many challenging times until this day. Our first major venture was a small business network that helped shape future billionaires and countless mom & pops throughout the world. He was still working in Redmond when he officially joined our board—an approval that he noted with displeasure took months. By then Russell had long since traded business management for crafting books, spending the bulk of his career at Microsoft Press as a master technical writer authoring more than a dozen titles.
When Russell retired from Microsoft in the late 1990s, his longevity was surpassed only by Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. He had helped build one of the greatest successes in human history, and observed the many side affects, some of which weighed heavily on his soul at times; providing a level of wisdom rarely found. In his capacity as angel investor and advisor to our ventures, Russell contributed similarly. He wasn’t a marketer or social butterfly, rather he was intensely interested in product development, innovation, and improving the world, realizing better than most the great challenges we face on this earth as well as the commitment necessary to overcome great obstacles.
Despite our long lasting friendship through good times and bad, when it came to business Russell was a pro. He understood and disclosed his limitations, did not hesitate to contribute where he was strongest, and never to my knowledge withheld the truth; all of which are essential for entrepreneurs.
On a personal level Russell enjoyed reading novels and spending time at his historic farm house with his wife Loretta and their dogs. He was involved with several canine groups, including field trials and the Humane Society—another passion we shared. A self proclaimed recluse in retirement, Russell loved long trips on his Harley, visiting old friends and meeting new people all across the U.S.
While this tragic news comes as a shock—we had discussed improving healthcare several times this week, and his passing is a great loss, we take comfort that our old friend passed quickly on a nice spring day at his peaceful home. I will miss my old friend. I am a better person for having known him.