Bonnie was a remarkable person, as everyone here knows. And to know Bonnie was to be a better person yourself, by trying to meet the high standards that Bonnie set and held herself to. She never said anything, she was the less judgemental of people, but by being with and around Bonnie you realized she was playing with a pretty serious playbook and so your level of integrity better be pretty good to match hers and your level of authenticity would be noticeable different than Bonnie’s unless you kept those standards in mind. She really affected all of us much more as an example than as a critic, she developed and inspired those who had the good fortune to be in her daily presence.
I first met Bonnie on June 9th, 1982 at the NCC (National Computer Conference) in Houston. She was the Chair of a session on the impact of computing on organizations and society. Wow! Here was this tall striking woman (not many in computing in those days), speaking in that smooth, persuasive way that she had, with the light touch of an academic and that charming and barely perceptible Texan twang. The questions that she posed to a group of very distinguished speakers which made it clear that she had thought more deeply about the subject than all of them put together. And yet in her way she made all of them sound good and their remarks useful and meaningful in the context they would say something big and thin and assertive and she would surround it in an envelope of fresh interpretation that made it seem really useful and potent. I never met anyone who could do that as well as Bonnie. She was mobbed after that session and I only had a few minutes to chat with her, but I was determined to keep track of Bonnie. So on and off I read things she wrote and corresponded with her a little bit.
A few years later, after I had started Metaphor, and we began selling our Data Interpretation System, we were quickly very successful in Consumer Goods, but except for BofA which was also our bank, we had been completely unsuccessful in financial services. One day out of the blue the CIO of Data Processing at Aetna called me directly, and said “There’s a woman who works with me here who says we’re missing the boat completely by keeping data analysis as a separate function. She says I have to see your product and talk to your customers to understand. How can I do that?” You can guess who that woman was.
In the spring of 1992, Paul Allen and I had just agreed to form Interval Research. I was having a breakfast interview with Andrew Singer, at Il Fornaio, when Bonnie walked by, and I called out “Hey Dr. J!” She always liked this reference cause she had a great fondness for athletics anyway and particular for Julius Irving the original Dr. J. To me in most settings she was always Dr. J. Then I saw her, I got her cellphone number, I knew how to get a hold of her and I thought : “I don’t care what she’s doing now. I’m not letting her get away!”
When I met with Bonnie the next day, she told me there were three things she wanted her work to focus on and she was very flexible about what kind of work it was provided it focused on these three things:
-Meeting people where they are that is to go out and understand them in nature as they were.
-Understanding their search for meaning, their own search for meaning in their lives and what they did was part of their self construction.
-Their need for communication in relationships the way in which communication was a basis even if it wasn’t verbal communication for their relationships.
I think that all of us who know her well can see those motifs in Bonnie’s whole life. Those are clearly the things that mattered to her in work settings but in every setting.
At an early Interval offsite in February of 1993 (long before the Internet was publicly accessible) she said “Connectivity is good, but it is really not sufficient for the world that’s emerging. The issue is now one of establishing trust rather than establishing connection.” And I mean it’s crystal clear of course now how prophetic that was at that moment, but you see Bonnie didn’t decide that by watching something happening on an internet that didn’t yet exist. Bonnie’s own instincts told her that connectivity wasn’t going to be the hard part, she’d leave that to technology that was already going to happen. So now it was about sorting out okay what are the actions, the behaviors, the attitudes that will make an electronic world still be a human one.
Bonnie was a great admirer of the rhetorical and leadership skills of Barbara Jordan, the late African American Congresswoman from Texas. She said once “she’s a strong Texas woman, like my Mama,” which I greatly admired. And what that was really about of course was Bonnie had an instinct about what leadership was and how rhetoric in the good sense of that word, which of course she was a master, was a potent source of leadership, not power necessarily, but influence and leadership and inspiration.
Bonnie always saw the role of faith as a source of confidence and inspiration and as a way for people to take their next step and face what they needed to face. Here we were in a research lab very much focusing on information related products for consumers, for individuals. Bonnie thought a lot about this question and we often talked about faith. She supported a nice research project on faith by Josh Loftus and David Lubenski where they interviewed many people about faith and how it played in their lives and in particular what change it brought in the way they thought about things. There was really a good feeling about having that work going on in the mist of all the bits and bytes and other things we were doing. She and I both had family tales about making a change to the Episcopal Church to depart from another
Church that was seen as less forgiving and less inclusive. And we often talked and I’m slight embarrassed to say even made fun of the somewhat fastidious distinctions among various Protestant denominations and so on and she laughed heartily about my little Midwestern joke from my childhood: “A Methodist is a Baptist that has learned to read; A Presbyterian is a Methodist who has been to college; and an Episcopalian is a Presbyterian who has joined the chamber of commerce.” We both had a good laugh about this because in some respects we both had neighbors and family to whom very fine doctrinal points seemed to be such a big deal. Of course to us both faith was a miracle that we were still coping with well into middle age and trying to sort out and bring into our life in a way that worked with all the other things we had going on. Bonnie was just one of those rare people you really could talk to about that.
Surely, Bonnie found the strength and courage to face her health challenges in her deep faith and in her desire to serve, even amid her own struggles. At almost every moment that she was able, she was a person who wanted to serve and so that is a part of her life. As always Bonnie set a standard for us in the case a standard of courage. And Daniel Shurman, her beloved husband, has shown us the meaning of devotion, and of grace.