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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Life is Short - Keith Jordan

Life is Short but Broad
Like Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture - Keith Jordan and his family have Words of Wisdom to pass along to those of us lucky enough to be alive and healthy.

So much changes in a person's life when s/he can see the end in sight. Priorities shift, what's on the “someday” list moves to the “now” list, what was once dismissed becomes vital - it goes on. Cassandra (Keith's wife) has given us a gift us his wisdom and a piece of his life - thank you Cassandra. - Vesta

Keith Andrew Jordan

Keith Jordan died on May 16, 2008 from advanced dementia, five years after his diagnosis with Pick's Disease, a progressive, degenerative brain disease with no known cause, no treatment and no cure.

Keith was a pioneer, always seeking new ways to help the world work better, and he explored alternatives across a broad spectrum: educational, political, social, technological, environmental, and even, alas, neurological.

At the time Keith's symptoms began to interfere with his functioning, Keith was involved in creating an ecologically sustainable intentional community. His interest in and devotion to community was a lifelong love affair, and can be seen in the various organizations he became involved with during his life: Johnston College, the Democratic Workers Party, Whole Earth Review publishing, Broderbund Software, Sustainable Sonoma County. Even Francis, the nurse who held his hand the day he died at Norwood Pines Alzheimer's Care Center, commented, "We were his family." Keith had many families during his 51 years, and he loved the people in his life with a fierce loyalty that might surprise those who knew his easy-going, relaxed and congenial personality.

Keith was born in Illinois on November 18, 1956. His family moved frequently while he was growing up due to his father's sales career with General Electric. A desire for an alternative education prompted Keith to leave the University of Minnesota midway through his freshman year and enroll at Johnston College in Redlands, California. There he made friends he would keep throughout his life. After college, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and became active with the Democratic Workers Party. He traveled frequently during these years, combining his work in book sales with his political organizing around Central America issues.

Keith was living in a communal house with several members of the DWP in Silver Lake area of Los Angeles when his son Nate was born in 1984. He moved back to San Francisco shortly thereafter and began working for the Whole Earth Catalog, continuing to co-parent his son in an upstairs-downstairs arrangement with Nate's mother and her partner. At Whole Earth, Keith blossomed from handling magazine subscription fulfillment & circulation to business manager to publisher. He was among the earliest pioneers into "cyberspace" and the online universe of the World Wide Web. One of his favorite experiences was as project manager for the electronic Whole Earth Catalog, which was an innovative interactive software CD publishing product he developed to be packaged with Apple Computer's first CD-ROM drives to showcase that technology. He was also especially proud of helping publish the book, Helping Nature Heal.

Keith met Cassandra Shafer in 1990 and we were married in May 1992. Our daughter Columbia was born in October 1993 while we were living in Marin County. Keith took a year off work at that time to participate fully in her birth and care. When she was a year old, he took a job in software development for Broderbund Software, a family-owned company. Later, as a manager in the software industry, Keith strongly encouraged those who worked for him to take time off when their children were born. He considered it one of the greatest joys and most important responsibilities in life. Not coincidentally, one of the products he enjoyed working on most was KidPix, a computer art program for children.

Keith shared many of his passions and enthusiasms with his children: his love of reading, books and the library, the joys of farmers' markets and cooking wonderful food, his eclectic taste in music and his pleasure singing with groups, his enjoyment of radio (A Prairie Home Companion, CarTalk, Fresh Air, etc.), volunteering for community causes: (Halloween carnivals, coastal and creek clean-ups, get-out-the-vote campaigns, etc.), hiking and camping in the desert, the mountains, the redwoods and the coast.

In 1999, we moved to Sonoma County and bought a home in Forestville. Still commuting to his software job while the poor company was bought and sold five times, Keith became deeply involved with the non-profit, Sustainable Sonoma County, serving on their board and hosting ecological footprint workshops in our home. In retrospect, Keith was already beginning to show early personality changes that presaged his disease.

Columbia was perhaps the first one to feel the effects of Keith's illness. "Daddy doesn't listen to me any more," she said when she was seven years old. Her memories of her father are sadly limited by how early in her life his disease struck as well as by the years living with and witnessing his deterioration. "That which does not kill me makes me stronger," she began saying a few years ago, and she certainly is strong, as well smart, creative, hardworking and friendly, just like her father. She will enter 10th grade this fall.

Keith's son, Nate, left home at 16. He made very strong connections with a couple of Keith's old friends from Johnston College/University of Redlands. Nate has taken Keith's place on annual Johnston alumni camping trips and embraces the Johnston community as his extended family.

After two frustrating, confusing years searching for a diagnosis, we enrolled in the research program on FTD (frontotemporal dementia) at UCSF's Memory and Aging Clinic in 2003, and Keith's case has helped neurologists gain more information and understanding about the brain and dementias in general. Just a few weeks after Keith died, UCSF launched a video channel on YouTube, which presents leading-edge science about his disease.

I knew Keith to be kind and giving, loyal, funny, devoted and responsible. He was an innovative thinker with diverse interests who could converse knowledgeably with anybody on any subject. He served as a connector who was always bringing people information that matched their interests and bringing together people who fertilized one another and spawned creative endeavors. I hold him in my heart as a gentle spirit, a loving husband, a collaborative partner, my best friend.

The past seven years have been an extended earthquake as the ground we stood upon fragmented under our feet. Trying to stay in touch with people felt like straddling a fault the size of the Grand Canyon. I hope this message reaches those who knew and loved Keith.

In lieu of flowers, please honor Keith's memory and celebrate his life by doing one the things he loved to do:

. . . ride your bicycle
. . . savor the taste, smell and beauty of an organic heirloom tomato
. . . sing with a community chorus
. . . share your favorite book with a friend
. . . lend your tools to a neighbor (better yet, help them finish their project)
. . . attend an avant garde theater production
. . . pick up a copy of Yes magazine
. . . cook a healthy feast for your family
. . . read aloud to your kids or your lover at bedtime
. . . shop at a farmers market
. . . forgive . . . everybody who ever hurt you
. . . laugh . . . long and loud and clear

We'd love to hear your stories of Keith. Feel free to send your memories, comments, photos, etc.

Cassandra Shafer