Remembering Bob Pease The Writer

June 20, 2011
Don Tuite reflects on his experience with Bob Pease the columnist, as opposed to Bob the engineer. Bob died Satuday in a car wreck.

I will let other people tell you about Bob Pease the analog designer. He was one of the legends of Silicon Valley. But I knew him more as Bob Pease the compulsive writer. He started his column for Electronic Design more than 20 years ago, and even when he was out of the country, trekking in the Himalayas, more often than not, all by himself, or accompanied by a Sherpa guide, his columns appeared in every issue. They were, hands-down the most popular feature in the book.

The column’s subject matter was eclectic. Bob could talk about his diabetes as easily as he could talk about current sources or ancient vacuum-tube operational amplifiers. He was strongly opinionated, but he could communicate with a wry sense of humor that endeared him to readers whether they agreed with him or not.

People, especially people involved in technology, wanted to get to know him better. For example, one day, back before I began working for the magazine, my wife came home from work to tell me that she was sure she had bumped into Bob at a filling station. She was as thrilled as if she had met a movie star. (Later, she would get to give Bob a test ride in the Tesla Roadster while I shot the video of the event for Engineering TV. 

Bob had that kind of star quality that few people have. I think that’s what made his columns so popular. He projected enthusiasm. When you read a Pease column, you could tell that this was a guy who was passionate about whatever had tickled his fancy this time and who wanted to transfer that passion to every one of his readers.

Last Saturday, Bob went to a memorial service for another legendary analog designer, Jim Williams, who had died the previous weekend. It was held at a place called the Mountain Winery, an outdoor concert venue with a restaurant and tasting rooms high on the ridge that forms the backbone of the San Francisco Peninsula. You reach it by the way of a narrow, twisty road that runs off another narrow, twisty road in the forested hills above the tony town of Saratoga.

Those roads were Bob’s undoing. On Sunday morning, the Mercury News carried a short item that said a 70-year-old man driving a 1969 Volkswagen had died when he missed a sharp left turn and ran into a tree. The Highway Patrol had not identified the victim to the reporter. At about the same time, I received an e-mail from my friend, and Bob’s friend, Paul Rako, who covers the same beat I do for Electronic Design’s competitor, EDN, telling me that the man was Bob.

There is some irony there. I said that Bob was a compulsive writer. Perhaps I should have said obsessive. The irony arises because, besides the columns, Bob wrote and self-published a 470-page book called How to Drive Into Accidents, and How Not To, which I’m looking at now. It’s like a very, very long version of one of his columns. It contains everything he could think of about automobile accidents, including a section about “Driving On Curvy Roads,” along with a list of every traffic accident ever had, along with what he had learned from each.

I don’t know what conclusions to draw from that. Life and death don’t arrange themselves into tidy patterns the way they do in fiction. But the coincidence is the kind of thing that Bob would have latched onto in one of his columns. It helps fill in the picture, even if it does not offer resolution.

You can’t take Bob Pease and fit him into a single category. He was a pioneer in analog IC design. He was literally and figuratively peripatetic. He was intense. He was opinionated. His brain never stopped making connections. And he wanted to teach the world about everything.

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