I spent some time with Sally Ride in 2000.
We were both attending a “CEO Summit” at the Sundance Resort in Utah, an event hosted by the venture capital firm that backed the businesses each of us worked for at the time.
Sally was the president of a new, pretty cool company called Space.com. Unlike me, who figured simply as a “gray-hair”/authority/stable management totem at my firm, Sally was a legitimate superstar/trophy/marquee figure for hers, attracting positive press notices and additional investment, both of course quintessential aspects of dot.com life.
Sally’s presentation consisted of a fascinating guided tour through her outer space photograph collection and she was charming, funny and modest describing how putting on slide shows like this one was an easy, automatic way to garner positive attention and rapt audience interest.
I wouldn’t have accosted her, but we happened to be thrown together during a couple of cocktail hours and, never having met an astronaut, I wasn’t going to shy away from the opportunity to speak to her. One thing I knew, apart from the things every American had learned about her, was that she had originally attended Swarthmore College, where I also studied as an undergraduate, so I used this as my “ice-breaker.”
Sally flashed warmly on the memory, saying that she loved Swarthmore, but that she had fooled herself into thinking that she might be able to live comfortably far away from the California sunshine of home. One cold, wet Pennsylvania winter followed by a disappointing spring and the promise of another gloomy January prompted her mid-sophomore year departure for Stanford.
We discussed how we both felt like fish out of water at our respective companies (and frankly at the conference) and how basically foreign the all the hyper-drive commercial activities on amped-up display there felt to her. She said (ever modestly) that she was a scientist and she felt most comfortable being involved in research and teaching, although she said she also loved working at NASA and her time in the astronaut program.
So I wasn’t surprised when I learned a few months later that she had left Space.com and all the pressures, depredations, natterings, dark mutterings and sometimes violent outbursts inherent in dot.com office life.
I was so very sorry and sad to learn of Sally Ride’s passing on Monday, late in the afternoon of a very hot day, sitting in a steamy house in southeastern Pennsylvania, not far from Swarthmore, waiting for the air conditioning repairman to arrive.
Like all astronauts, she was a huge, automatic inspiration to me, but as the “first U.S. woman in space,” of course she held a special place in my heart.