Chances are that you didn’t know Emru Townsend, at least personally. But you may well have read his work–the Montreal-based writer did some fine and funny blogging for PC World’s Digital World and was responsible for such popular PCW stories as The 10 Worst Games of All Time, and also wrote for other venues, including his own print and online publications.
And if you enjoy Technologizer, I’m sure of one thing: You would have found Emru to be a kindred spirit. I sure bonded with him, from the time I first met him almost exactly twenty years ago. We were both passionate about computers and gadgets (especially our beloved Commodore Amigas). We both loved animation and comics. And we both were deeply into online community. (Did I mention that we touched base almost every day for years–but that we knew each other only electronically for the first ten years or so of our friendship? And that he was such a vivid, engaging personality that it didn’t matter?)
The world is full of tech fans, but few who wrote about tech with Emru’s wit, style, and thoughtfulness. I was proud to publish his work at PC World, but even happier to hang out with him online and in person.
One Emru memory that sticks in my mind: In 2006, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me–one of my favorite radio shows–included a segment based on Emru’s “10 Worst Games” feature. It was a thrill to have a PCW story seep into the public consciousness in that way, and when I pinged Emru to see if he’d heard it, he said that he had–and that he too was a huge Wait Wait fan.
In December 2007, Emru found himself feeling unexpectedly poorly. When he consulted a doctor, he got some bad news: He had leukemia. He responded in typical Emru fashion: calmly, constructively, and with a remarkable degree of good humor given the circumstances. Along with his sister Tamu he founded Heal Emru, a Web site designed to spread the word about his search for the bone marrow donor who might help save his life. But Heal Emru was never just about healing Emru: It became a community dedicated to educating folks about the need for bone marrow donations in general.
Emru blogged his adventures as a leukemia patient at Heal Emru with uncommon introspection and courage–including his coverage of his bone marrow transplant, which he received in September. But on October 29th, he wrote:
The reason for my discharge and transfer back to my old hospital is because although the transplant itself was an awesome success by any measure, I haven’t gone into remission…I asked one of my hematologists in Ottawa how much time he figured I had. He said less than a year. I asked the same question of my hematologist today, and she said weeks, maybe months.
Emru continued to post on Heal Emru into early November; he also maintained a photostream at Flickr that’s moving, funny, sad, and just plain interesting.
Tonight, shortly before 10pm Montreal time, he passed on, with his family at his side.
Among his survivors are sister Tamu, his parents, his wife Vicky, and his son, Max. But he touched an vast number of people, including the countless folks who encountered him online or enjoyed his writing about technology and other topics. And through Heal Emru, his writing will do something extraordinary: help save the lives of people he never met. (I’m sure nothing would please him more than knowing that folks were continuing to visit the site to learn about leukemia, bone marror donations, and how to register as a donor; please take a few minutes to check it out if you haven’t.)
It’s going to take awhile before I really comprehend that I’m never going to see an e-mail from Emru in my inbox again, or have the opportunity to attend a bad Consumer Electronics Show vendor party with him. I was, however, smart enough to save a sizable chunk of the electronic communications I had with him over the years, so I’ll be able to get an Emru fix when I need it. And I hope it goes without saying that I’ll never forget the way he lived his life, right up to the end.