Remembering Jeffrey P. McManus
I usually think it’s pointless to post things that were written to be spoken, because they lose their context without the speaker’s intended pauses and inflections, and the audience’s energy. But I’m posting the words I said at my friend Jeffrey’s memorial in San Francisco this weekend, because I would like you to know a little about a very important and influential person, who made a lot of lives better and happier. And who is missed beyond words.
Good evening. I’m Mary Elizabeth Williams, and this is an Action Newsbabe update.
In San Francisco tonight, friends and family have gathered to celebrate the life of Jeffrey P. McManus. McManus was the founder of Code Lesson, the assistant curator of the beloved Red Blazer News Babe site, the chief Internet adversary of Chuck Woolery, and the creator and architect of the Jeffrey P. McManus Information Superhighway.
I am not, in the words of Mr. Derek Zoolander, a great eugoogilizer. But I would tell you a little about the Jeffrey I knew. I met Jeffrey back in the early nineties, when I was but a clueless noob on a small but influential online system called the WELL, and where Jeffrey cohosted a conference called genx. Let me take you back to a time long before Facebook and Twitter. Really before Mosaic, even. When, if you didn’t mind the incredibly slow dialup on your 2600 baud modem and having to pay for a call to Sausalito every time you logged on, genx was the absolute most fun you could have staring at your Macintosh Quadra.
I hadn’t been on the WELL very long when Jeffrey asked me out to lunch. We met up for burritos, and he suggested we start a pop culture conference together. I thought it sounded fun. And pretty much everything that’s happened in my career since then, and a significant number of the friends that I’ve made, have been a result of the fact that I sat across from Jeffrey McManus in a taqueria one day in the early Clinton era and said yes.
People just said yes to Jeffrey. It almost didn’t matter much who was being asked, or what was being asked. If Jeffrey was the guy asking, the answer was likely to be yes. Because you knew that whether you were sitting down with him at a business meeting or falling down with him at a party, if you stuck around Jeffrey, interesting things were going to happen. Many of those things were going to happen in your liver. Jeffrey was a catalyst. By simply accepting his invitation, you were going to meet the person you were going to start a company with. You were going to meet your new best friend. Or just, your new best friend for the evening. Jeffrey was the man who would introduce you to your future ex girlfriend or your next corn wrestling opponent. Or the love of your life. The mother of your children. Jeffrey was a man who lived by E.M. Forster’s edict to "Only connect." He cared so passionately about other people, and their relationships. As he once told me, it’s not love until you hear those three little worlds: Temporary. Restraining. Order.
In recent years, his social life expanded to include family events and children’s parties, but his never lost his sense of play and mischief. And he never backed off one iota from his commitment to and support for his friends. It was through Jeffrey that I met the friend who many years later would encourage me to do the clinical trial that saved my life. Which is kind of ironic because when I think of Jeffrey long ago, pouring tequila down my throat, thrusting lit sparklers in both my hands, and then letting me loose to run around on his roof, I still believe he was actively trying to kill me.
Last year, when I was training for a marathon to raise money for Gilda’s Club, Jeffrey and his wife Carole were among the first to sponsor me. And then right before the race date, Jeffrey kicked in an extra two hundred dollars, because, as he said on my donation page, Josh Marshall was being a douche on the Internet. And I thought what a perfectly Jeffrey gesture it was, so wonderfully magnanimous, so eager to pick a fight.
When you see people who are really great at what they do, everything just seems to flow. The way they dance, or shoot a basket, looks effortless. As one who can neither dance nor shoot a basket, I really admire that. That’s what I loved most about Jeffrey. I knew a guy who was generous and spirited and hilarious and adoring of the people he cared about. But I also know that he chose to be that kind of guy. He worked at it. He chose to be to be giving when he could have been selfish. He chose to be curious when he could have been complacent. He chose to be affectionate and hopeful and fun. He put in the effort, day after day, year after year. And that to me is a magnificent achievement, and an incredible legacy.
Ever since the early dot com days, there’s been an expression for what people like Jeffrey were doing that I find just about as stupid and redundant as “gay marriage.” It’s ”virtual community.” It drives me crazy, because it implies a lesser status to our relationships. Like they’ve all been imaginary. But when I look around and see friends and couples and families who were brought together by Jeffrey, this feels real. Mighty real.
Jeffrey P. McManus is survived by his sister Jill, his wife Carole, his daughter Celeste, his son Rev, and a large and diverse group of people whose lives are deeply, beautifully entwined. A host of friends who are going to carry on his work of being generous and loving and fun and troublemaking and antagonistic to Chuck Woolery. A community that he built. A community that is anything but virtual. So thank you, Jeffrey. Thank you, everybody.