This weekend Joe Alhadeff passed away after a long bout with cancer. Joe is a founder of the Information Accountability Foundation, just one of a number of organizations that he saw as providing solutions to an increasing complex set of eco-systems. He has been a colleague of mine for well over a decade. He was also a dear friend, who cared about those he worked with. Whether it was a student at his beloved Oberlin, or a government staff person at an agency at any one of the earth’s four corners, Joe knew how to touch people.
So, as I was looking for a word to describe Joe, I went back to our shared Yiddish. A “mensch” is a person of integrity and honor, someone to admire and emulate. The word “mensch” truly describes Joe.
On Friday, I shared Joe’s condition with a distinguished researcher and advocate. She and Joe have often had different views, but she shared with me that she always looked for Joe at meetings and sat with him. She said she learned so much from him. He provided context she couldn’t get from others.
I believe information policy should be like hockey as played by Wayne Gretsky, who was great because he went to where the puck would be, not where it had been. Joe was the master. He could see policy steps necessary six or seven steps out. For example, it was Joe who in 2003 saw that an APEC privacy initiative would have an impact on European data transfer policy, which it did seven years later. What’s more, he could convince people like me that the vision was worth the effort, even if the payoff would be in the future.
Joe and I shared many breakfasts in various locations in Asia, South America and Europe. He was always the right person to begin the morning with. There would be humor, policy and more humor.
That is the way I remember Joe. Bearded grin, a rye joke, and then a policy plan for tomorrow. I will miss him so.
I have asked IAF colleagues to add their remembrances, and Peter Cullen wrote this:
Joe saw the future world through the complicated chess pieces that were in play to get to the desired result. In many respects, Joe seemed to enjoy the “game” of influencing these pieces. As they played out, we all sat back and observed and watched the way they unfolded. Personally, I could always count on Joe to provide a perspective on things I had not seen.
In every sense of the word, Joe was “global’. By extension, he had good friends in every part of the world. I will always think of Joe as interested and committed to friendship. He was the consummate host and thrived on entertaining the many people in his life. It was always mesmerizing to hear of his travel adventures.
I believe people should be remembered by the things that make us smile. Part of Joe’s game involved booking his travel. He loved to see what “deal” he could make. Joe loved my Executive Assistant, April, at Microsoft; he claimed she looked after him better than she looked after me. When traveling, all my transportation was arranged. When Joe was with me in some part of the world, she used to ask Joe if he wanted a lift somewhere. As a result, Joe would refer to himself as the “other Mrs. Cullen”. He mused that what he needed was an “April” but in truth this never would have worked for him. It would have deprived him of the joy he got out of getting an upgrade or a bigger room; this was all part of the game.
I loved the way Joe traveled. My fondest memory was his ability to get on a plane and go to sleep. To this day, when Janice (my wife) and I travel and feel a bit dozy, even on the taxi-way, we will say to each other “time to take a Joe” and close our eyes.
And Stan Crosley:
I was fortunate enough to interact with Joe in many different fora over much of the last 20 years, including, one of my favorites — on the board of The Privacy Projects, where Joe routinely “held court” on global data policy matters ranging from government data access to health research. And, in these conversations, God help you if you disagreed with Joe and had not quite thought through why it was that you disagreed. For while Joe was one of the most gracious hosts you’ll ever meet and was loyal and sweet to all his friends, perhaps to a fault, Joe also did not suffer fools politely and had the ability to quickly and decisively dismember someone who was ill-prepared for his sharp mind. But it was precisely this quality–affable and irresistible personally (complete with a fabulous sense of humor and an infectious laugh) and ruthlessly clinical professionally— that brought such enormous success to Joe and has left us with such a remarkable global data policy legacy. He was always intensely and compassionately interested in helping researchers and engineers gain efficient access to all the data and information they needed to address some of the biggest human issues of our time – including research to advance innovation in cancer treatment. But he had enough foresight and vision to understand that it had to be done on a truly global scale and he was willing to work nation by nation to achieve it.
In my faith, in my journey, I’ve come to believe strongly that our lives are lived for a purpose we cannot fully understand. The dips and valleys, mountains and peaks, they all serve to enrich and prepare us for what is to come next and to be an example to others who are watching us live our lives. The example we set— and we can’t avoid setting an example—can be a dire warning or it can be a beacon of hope, a light to others who may face uncertain trials or impossible struggles and grief, or even who may experience unbelievable accomplishment. Joe’s life was, and his legacy will continue to be, a beacon of hope. From his countless accomplishments in every region of the world to his battle with the cancer that ultimately took his life, Joe showed us how it could be— how it should be — done.
If this life is a woven tapestry, then the richest part of the fabric isn’t what we’ve woven, but what is woven by others looking at the patterns that we’ve started. And Joe’s tapestry is rich and vivid and warm and will continue to be woven, for many years after all of us are gone, by hundreds and hundreds of hands, looking at the patterns that Joe started for us.
And Joe was our friend. No, actually, that’s not quite true. To each of us, Joe was not just an acquaintance. He was our “close personal friend.” And, ultimately, that is the legacy that Joe has left us – that is the tapestry that we must continue to weave in our policy community. We can argue aggressively, passionately, with brilliance and decisiveness, but we can do so and truly remain close, personal friends. We can Joe it.
Since we initially posted the blog, these additional contributions were received:
Joe and I become friends almost 20 years ago, at a privacy event, where he got up and asked a question. In true Joe-style, it was the most articulate and astute remark of the day. I leapt up, scrambled over and made his acquaintance before he could get away. And that was the start of a true friendship. I say “true,” because Joe was just that..true. Joe was sweet and kind and genuine. He was always generous with his brilliance, his wry humor and his friendship. He was also wicked smart. And, he was always practical. He was sought after for his clear reasoning and future thinking. Joe put positive shape and substance on the global information policy debate that we will all be enjoying for many, many years to come. Thank goodness for Joe. He was a master at the perfect blend of policy and politics, engaging both with sophistication and nuance. He did love the travel…he would coach me on which seat, on which craft, was positioned the best or had an extra bit of leg room.. he knew because he traveled that much. Sometimes we’d chat before a flight home and yes, Joe was always thinking about “what’s next” and “what work do we have to do” but he also thought about fun stuff, like what friends he was going to see, what recreational book he was going to read. One of my favorite Joe stories is what he replied when I asked him one time what he was most looking forward too when he got back to states. (This was in the days before reading apps and smart phones.) Joe replied “reading my Harry Potter books”! After I gasped and said no surely not those are children’s books about magic! Joe said,”oh yes, but they are also books about good versus evil, and intricately, compellingly and delightfully written.” I of course went right out and bought them all because if the fabulous and wickedly bright Joe was reading them, then I must too. In his global policy work he was like a chess master “planning the moves, and counter moves, through to success. He complimented that global policy work with himself“ his golden-hearted, genuine good personness, that was fun and sweet and true. I will miss him terribly.
Joe’s contributions and his loss to the community cannot be overstated. If you’ve been around the privacy and information policy space for any time over the last 20 years, you probably heard or saw a talk, presentation or commentary from Joe. As humans, we are never just one thing, we are many, and Joe was an exemplar of that. First and foremost, Joe was a professional friend and colleague from whom I learned so much about the subtleties of the international policy world. He had a brilliant mind for internet and information policy, and for politics, art, history, food and much more. He was often a travel companion as part of our pack of privacy people traveling to privacy and other policy meetings – from Paris, to Dublin and Madrid and Sydney and Singapore, to Mexico City, Toronto and beyond. I remember wandering the streets of Sydney during the 2003 International Conference hosted by Malcom Crompton. Joe helped me select opals from a shop and convinced me to order a lychee martini. If there was an OECD, APEC, EU, FTC, or US Council of Business meeting on privacy and internet policy, he was there, offering input that balanced business and consumer interests. Sometimes it seemed like he lived on a plane. At Accountability meetings in Paris and Madrid, Joe was pointed and persistent about the practical limits of organizational obligations for assessments, and we can still hear his distinctive voice and ‘Joe-isms’. “Have you thought about? You might want to consider? Why would anyone agree to do that?” Joe was a guy who could convey an eye-roll with his tone and timbre. We always knew that even if we weren’t at a given meeting, Joe would report back on the specific discussions, decisions and non-decisions, as well as the people context. In this way he was a consummate teacher and connector, connecting ideas and issues to people and places, always with a long term view. He was diplomatic, witty and artful in disagreement, and eloquent and persuasive in his advocacy. I had tremendous respect and appreciation for Joe, even when we disagreed. He was always great company, and was sought out by many. It was an honor to be his friend. He will be missed by family, friends, colleagues and policymakers all around the world.
One of my most vivid memories of Joe is something I refer to as “being on Joe’s bus”. Joe had a wonderful relationship with his parents. The respect Joe had for his father was a core part of who Joes was. Joe’s father was an Auschwitz survivor who went on to become an Obstetrician in New York. Joe loved telling people about how many children his father had brought into the world. I was always left by these stories with a vision of a man dedicated to reversing the evil he had seen, by rejoicing in the giving of life. Everyone who knew Joe had an understanding of how much his father’s passing affected him. To memorialize his father and recognize his ability to let life triumph over death, Joe asked a few friends to join him retracing his father’s journey from Prague to Auschwitz, a place Joe had never visited. For most of us, if we are fortunate, such an idea might be joined in by a few close friends. For Joe, a bus quickly filled. In typical Joe fashion, he made the trip equal parts friendship, food, humor, policy master class, poignant memorial and opportunity to come together. Being on the bus was about Joe breaking down barriers between people and creating a community. Joe was, and is, the connective tissue of technology policy.
Joe’s sense of humor was often used as a mechanism to further his purpose driven life. He had the ability to become close friends with people with whom he strongly disagreed. With a witty joke, a comical impression, or a wry smile, he could bring just about anyone onto his bus. In the same way that Joe brought a diverse group of people together, he also believed that technology could be used to break down barriers between different cultures and people. Joe was one of the earliest leaders to talk about the how public policy should enable global data flows. He fought hard to allow for interoperability between different policy regimes and the ability for technology to be used by a greater number of people in the world. He also focused on developing the next generation of global technology policy leaders who could see the issues from multiple perspectives, and he charged them to make a difference. Joe’s bus continues its journey. He remains on the bus in our memories and the way he continues to influence the destinations we decide to visit.
It is hard to put into words the loss that we have all suffered with Joe’s passing. Joe represented not only one of the most thoughtful and strategic minds that we have all benefited from, but he was always there — bolstering us, our ideas, and a balanced approach to the field of privacy and data protection. For me, I will never forget the first time I met Joe at a meeting in Washington, DC more than 12 years ago. On the surface, Joe could be intimidating due to his sheer intellect and formidable stature. But once you got to know him, he was the sweetest teddy bear of a man always willing to engage and help a fellow colleague. There have been a handful of people who took me under their wings, in a selfless way, to help me grow within this field. Joe was one of those individuals. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from him and to share many fond memories during our trips to APEC in the early years of CBPRs and with Marty’s work in Europe on Accountability. Joe not only made me a better privacy professional, but he made every organization he was part of better, more strategic, and more accountable. Joe’s passing has been jarring for me and I already sense the immense vacuum in our field. But the loss for many of us goes far beyond professional as we have lost a key member of the family that we have all formed. I hold on to one fact we are all very fortunate to have had Joe in our lives and he will truly be missed, yet never forgotten.
Jennifer Stoddart (originally part of a May tribute to Joe)
Joe’s acuity and sense of humour shone forth, improbably, in OECD meetings in Paris. They are day long affairs, in windowless rooms, where voices behind flags speak in a variety of accents. The opinions reflect the realities of some various 35 countries but unless you know that reality the speakers seem articulate but unintelligible.
Joe, representing BIAC, always had his computer screen up, reading and tapping away. It looked like he was wasn’t paying attention. Except ,when he put his flag up the other participants realised that, unlike many of them, he had read everything beforehand, understood it and connected all the dots in the current business and other related affairs.
He spoke to issues with a sardonic smile which helped to relieve the boredom of listening to too many over-earnest and opinionated interventions. Somehow he understood all the viewpoints – those of advocacy groups, the EU, Scandinavian and Asian countries. He sat, serenely listening, close to the chair. His voice was never raised. And in the end, we all followed his advice.
On one of the recent OECD efforts, the drafting of the Health Data Sharing Guidelines, Joe had once more the occasion to demonstrate his cool. An expert group had been formed with persons recommended by the member countries, to advise the drafting group of which Joe was a very important member. There were lengthy international e-mail discussions about potential principles to be adopted. In this context one participant, who self situated himself in a bar, called Joe something like a running dog of capitalism. Several of us subsequently wrote to Joe to assure him that the writer was not a key player in the group consensus building. No problem, Joe wrote back. It’s not because you are an expert that you have manners!
If you would like to add to these remembrances, please send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will add them.