Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Personal Memory Of Sally Ride

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  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 life.  


   Our v.c. backers asked Sally to be the featured attraction at one of the conference’s lavish evening events.  (The other celebrity on display there was Gen. Colin Powell.  As big a phony as he usually seems when appearing on television,  in person he really was a riveting public speaker.)   

     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  and all the pressures, depredations, natterings, dark mutterings and sometimes violent outbursts inherent in 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. 


  1. Thank you for recounting your encounter with Sally Ride. Of course I never met her, but I was extremely sad to learn of her untimely death. I feel as though I know her better after reading your reflections. I always thought she had a great name. Sally RIDE.

  2. Just noticed your reference to the Greylock CEO Summit. Coincidentally, my father was a camp counselor at Camp Greylock in Becket, Massachusetts in the '20s. No connection, but I haven't thought of the name in years.

  3. I'm glad you liked this. Sally Ride touched all of us, I think, who thought highly of astronauts from the beginning. (Who didn't back then?) I doubt Jane and her friends know anything about her or care. As you can imagine, it was a real thrill to meet her and she was very nice; she would have reminded you of a school friend, she was so pleasant and natural. The environment of the CEO Summit was so artificial (to me, at least; I think others found it bracing) that it was nice to meet someone who seemed like a kindred soul. As for Greylock, as I recall the v.c. firm's founder (it's a Boston-based company, but has expanded to Silicon Valley and Israel because it's largely technology-focused) took the name from a place in Massachusetts that he loved. Curtis