REMEMBERING KESTER CRANSWICK
This is a collection of stories and memories of Kester Cranswick. We decided to put this modest tribute together as this year, 2006, it will be ten years since Kester died. A recent conversation at an industry event made me realise that already many people in the ICT industry in Australia don’t know who Kester was and it seemed a good idea to share some memories.
Our grateful thanks to Imogen Boas for taking the time and trouble to collect and collate the moving tributes above. If you have some memories of Kester that you would like to share please email Imogen.
Who better than to start things off than Graeme Philipson, who knew Kester well and who, when he died in 1996, wrote this beautiful tribute.
I first met Kester Cranswick by telephone in 1986. I was working for a seminar company trying to think of profitable ideas for computer conferences, and as part of my work I used to read the computer press to see what was hot and what was not.
One byline kept attracting my attention, that of ‘Kester Cranswick’, writing in Computing Australia. I noticed the byline for three reasons: the name was distinctive, the articles were very well written, and – most of all – there were so many of them. This guy was so prolific that more than once I thought that Kester Cranswick must be a shared pseudonym for two or more writers.
I was in the Melbourne office of my company one afternoon, visiting from Sydney, and I heard the receptionist say to one of my colleagues that Kester Cranswick was on the phone. After my friend had finished, I got on the line and introduced myself to Kester as one of his biggest fans.
He sounded surprised. When I subsequently followed a similar career to Kester’s, I found that people rarely acknowledge, let alone praise, what is written in the computer press and any favourable comment is very welcome. Kester accepted my words with the humility which I later found to be a trademark of his.
Kester soon became editor of Computing Australia, and I became editor of its fierce competitor Computerworld. But the competition was between our bosses, the publishers. As editors we were more colleagues, going to the same press conferences and flying away on the same junkets.
It’s a big group now, but back in the late 80s there were comparatively few computer journalists in Australia. We all got to know each other pretty well, and Kester and I became friends. We were never really close, but we knew each other well enough to see each other socially. I’d look him up when I was in Melbourne, and he and Beata even made the trek up to Gosford to visit us once.
Our careers moved on. I went freelance, and Kester became, of all things, an advisor to the federal government on information technology, on the personal staff of the minister, the great John Button. Senator Button has retired from politics now, but he will be long remembered for his dynamism in promoting new technology policies, and for his good humour and good manners. And for his small stature. He was like an imp, with a personality to match.
We were all a bit surprised that Kester got this job. It seemed a bit much. After all, he was just like us, and we could hardly expect to have got such a job. So there might have been a bit of jealousy involved. But it spoke heaps for his abilities. He was flying around between Sydney and Melbourne and Canberra, busying himself with what ever it is that personal advisors to the minister do, and we still saw a lot of him. We didn’t see a lot of what he did, but it was obvious that he was doing it well.
After a couple of years Kester resigned and set up a small public relations company. He did a lot of freelance writing, which is a good way to earn a living if you can write quickly and well and if you have lots of contacts. Kester had all these things. He was also very easy to deal with.
By this time I and Alistair Gordon, who had been Kester’s boss as publisher of Computing Australia, had started our own publishing company. Kester did some writing for us, just as I had once done some for him. Always good stuff, always on time, the total professional. It’s amazing how few freelance writers are like that. And they wonder why they’re always looking for work. Kester never had to look for work.
One evening in late 1994 I was in Melbourne overnight at a loose end, and I sought Kester out. I went out to his house in Ormond, and the two of us went to his local Chinese restaurant for a meal. I can’t remember what we talked about – probably just the usual chitchat about people and events in the computer industry. The stuff of our everyday lives.
As we walked back home Kester told me about the headaches he had been having. They had got worse in the last week or so, and he was thinking of going to the doctor about them. Two weeks later he was diagnosed with cancer.
It was all through him. Brain, bone, various organs. Shit, I thought. Kester’s just like me. We’re almost twins. Young son, lovely wife, career going well. It could have been me. What a lottery. It’s just not fair.
Kester didn’t die for another year and a half. I think he had some income insurance, and he was able to stop work to treat the cancer. I only saw him once again, but I spoke to him a few times on the phone. I was impressed with his attitude towards it all, and his determination to beat it. I thought to myself that nobody gets that riddled with cancer and survives, and Kester and Beata probably realised the same thing. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try and fight it.
I am lost with admiration with the way Kester and Beata behaved between the time Kester was diagnosed and when he died. I’ve had very little experience with death. Kester was not a close friend, but I’ve never had anyone closer to me die. I’m crying as I write this. I don’t know how much Kester and Beata cried. Probably a lot. I remember one telephone conversation I had with Beata after they had both resigned themselves to the inevitable. I couldn’t believe how strong she sounded. She probably burst into tears as soon as we got off the phone. Maybe she didn’t. It doesn’t matter. I kept asking myself how Rose and I would behave in that situation.
Kester died last week. We’d all been expecting it. They’d given up the battle a couple of months earlier and were doing their best to prepare for the inevitable. I never saw Kester in those final days, and I didn’t go to funeral, though I should have. But that means that I remember Kester as he was before the cancer, not after it.
What sort of fellow was he? You only ever hear good things about people after they die, and nobody’s perfect. But I can say a few things for sure about Kester Cranswick. He was always pleasant. I never saw him lose his temper, or heard of him doing so, or heard of him having a personal disagreement with anyone. He was so even-tempered, and he never seemed to worry about things.
He was very professional, and always did his work well. I don’t think he had a single enemy, or even anyone who disliked him. He was the most modest of men, though his many achievements gave him no reason to be so. He let his actions speak for him. Comparing him to myself, I feel a little smaller. I miss him a lot, and I hate the way he was snatched away so early.
Graeme Philipson, Wollongong, 30 January 1996.
Kester had a good understanding of our industry. He always took the time to understand and was interested in small growing local companies like Tangent. At the time I always felt he was one of the few good IT journalists around and that he brought a new level of professional journalism to the Australian IT media scene.
Rick Anstey, Founder and Director, inQbator
When I remember Kester, I think of his sharp intellect which didn’t suffer fools and his trendy red glasses.
Shuna Boyd, Boyd PR
I first meet Kester when I arrived in Melbourne, July 1985. I was lost, very home sick and he was so kind to me. He had moved to Melbourne from the UK and was part of the launch team on Computing at Computer Publications.
I remember him for his good humour, wit and rapier sharp observations on business and life in general. He was devoted to his wife Beata and so excited about being a dad. We all worked and partied hard in those days but Kester was always a gentleman and knew how to have fun without going too stupid.
As the years went by we all moved into different jobs and he went to work for Senator John Button as an advisor. He was great in his job and although always very busy, he always had time for a chat with an old mate. When we learnt that he was terribly sick, it was so sad; he had so much energy and so much to do. He and Beata were very brave and faced the cancer with strength and enormous courage. I expect Kester is now in heaven getting the issue out, firmly but politely interviewing new applicants and pouring the drinks whilst wearing a fetching set of suitable tailored wings and a another pair of loud brightly coloured spectacles.
Imogen Boas, Marketer
I knew Kester when he was the Victorian desk for Computing and writing for APC. My enduring impression is one of penetrating interest and incisive intellect, accompanied by a great urbanity.
Ian Davies, Founder and Managing Director, ISYS Search Software
My abiding (painful) memory of the funeral was speaking about him, standing in front of the congregation – church packed to the rafters – and choking up a little half way through. His young son got off the front pew, picked up a glass of water, and walked over and handed the water to me. It broke all of our hearts. Anyone who wasn’t crying before this soon was. The son who would grow up and never really know his father; the man and father in a box who wouldn’t see his son grow up.
Alistair Gordon, Director, MentorVest
Kester was a fine man, good friend and the consummate professional. His life was all too brief, but filled to the brim with achievement professionally, and also with the love of his wife Beata, son Elliot and extended family. He remains a beacon for us all, and is much missed.
Beverley Head, Freelance Writer
I didn’t know Kester at the end. Our lives had taken separate courses. In fact, I didn’t know of his fate until after his death. The inevitable flashbacks on learning that nature had chosen one of life’s gentlemen recalled, somewhat oddly, his charm. I thought that odd at the time because Kester was not always charming as the victim’s of his talented pen would attest.
Kester was a gentleman with a reasoned approach to life and work and, as far as I’m aware, his personal life. I remember thinking that, when things got tough or even when he and I had disagreements, I could rely on Kester to deal with the matter with logic and reasonableness. When a Computing rabble exercised their right to down tools, it was Kester in the Melbourne office who loyally carried on under the guise of a regional editorship, thus not taking industrial action himself but joining his editor, my mother and a few other blow-ins to keep weekly production on schedule.
I remember Kester demonstrating patience too, especially in his management of his sometimes erratic Elwood offsider. It used to amuse us somewhat (and somewhat perversely) in Sydney that such a gentleman should inherit that management task. But life wasn’t fair to Kester. We didn’t know then just how unfair it would be such a short time later.
Sean Howard, Founder of Computer Publications and OzEmail
I first became aware of Kester in the high octane atmosphere surrounding the launch of the Computing Australia trade weekly in Sydney, mid 1985, where I had signed on as a know nothing neophyte to the weird worlds of journalism and big business IT. I say aware, because Kester was down in Melbourne as features editor and figured mainly as a recipient of editor John Sterlicchi’s urgings over the phone to improve the quality of the trade rag’s content, otherwise known as tirades. Kester, being far away and one of the few of us who actually knew what he was doing, seemed to shoulder more than his share of these harangues.
I first laid eyes on Kester in a column shot inside the pages of Computing Oz and was amazed at the giant pair of glasses he wore. Later I learned I was supposed to be amazed. Kester’s purpose in wearing the goofy glasses was to make sure that once spotted, he was never forgotten.
I got to know Kester in more depth than as a fellow receiver of John’s bellowings when he came up to Sydney to edit Computing where he proved to be a quick minded, hype resilient and knowledgeable editor. But whereas John managed by vocal volume; Kester went for a more scientific approach and was occasionally seen nose deep in management theory tomes. Perhaps that is where he found the inspiration for his famous “half cut” memo.
In those long gone days when you could actually smoke in the office, the computer industry ran on a four and a half day week that ended at Friday lunchtime. From midday on, most of the industry, journos included, went on a lubrication fest. And so it was one Friday a group of us lowly paid, much abused Computing “rabble” as Sean Howard describes us elsewhere in this tribute, went to a nearby bar and got in the way of half a dozen or so tequila laybacks each. I felt pretty good after that, wandered back to office and didn’t notice that my knees had turned to jelly and my brain had turned into refried beans until I was nearly at my desk, where I slumped into a noisy, half coma for several hours until the ability to walk returned and I could stumble off for cleansing ales.
Next Monday, a printed memo (remember them?) arrived on our desks, advising, very reasonably I thought, not to come back to the office when “half cut” but to go home and be a blithering drunk in private. Us rabble loved the half cut memo and spent days noisily discussing the difference between quarter, half and full cut states.
My last contact with Kester was around a decade later, when I was working on David Frith’s Computer Daily News and Kester who had been doing a spot of freelancing for CDN, was dealing with his illness through a mix of modern medicine and spiritual work. I remember chatting with him about his approach, wanting very much for everything to work out for him and being struck by his dignity under extreme pressure.
Soon after that, he was gone.
Stuart Kennedy, IT Editor, The Australian
There truly is not much you can add to Graeme’s elegant and eloquent tribute. One anecdote we could include is the only time I saw Kester flustered.
We were in California on the usual Apple jolly and, on the last night, we slept at the home of John Sterlicchi who was then living in the Valley. As John had been a journo in Australia and was not averse to the turps – we all had a splendid dinner.
Next day, somewhat hungover, we went from the Sterlicchi house in San Jose to San Francisco airport. There, Kester found o his horror, he had left his passport in the Sterlicchi household, in a jacket hanging on the back of a door.
Bit of a panic. No way that the passport could be delivered in time for the flight.
Kester managed to talk the airline into letting him on the flight without a passport and then, when we arrived in Australia, he talked immigration into letting him in without a passport which, he said, would follow by post.
Although I am a bullshit artist of the first degree – yes, better than Graeme – I could not have managed it. Kester did because he was, the precise phrase, a sweet person and people trusted him. The world is much lessened by his absence.
Gareth Powell somewhere in the UK
I can remember clearly the first and last times we met. The first was in London in spring 1985 and I had just been appointed launch-editor of Computing Australia and, fingers-crossed, I advertised in the UK for any Aussie journos, who might be considering going home. Kester answered the ad and we met in London where he has just resigned as editor of a small monthly magazine to head back home.
Kester was full of charm and confidence and was looking forward to heading to Melbourne. I knew straight away he would be a great asset to Computing and I don’t think either one of us could believe our luck. I would have at least one professional journo working for me when I arrived in Australia and Kester would have no worries on the job front when he arrived home.
Fast forward around seven years and Kester with Gareth Powell and other tech journos showed up at Chez Sterlicchi in San Jose for a little relaxation after a press trip to Silicon Valley. A good time was had by all. Kester, I think by then, was also a proud father and we swapped baby photos. Sometime after lunch the party headed off to the airport.
Some hours later I received a phone call from Kester saying he had left his jacket and passport at my house. In his inimitable way he was unworried about this development while I, who had had a few contretemps with immigration folks, was very perturbed. His reaction turned out to be the right one. He must have charmed his way on board the plane back to Sydney because he certainly didn’t get the passport I was holding until long after he arrived back in Australia. Good on ya Kester!
John Sterlicchi, Edittech International,[Founding Editor of Computing Australia]
Kester and I were not friends, rather work colleagues. We sat on opposite sides of the publishing fence and, when he took over the Editors’ role on Computing from Sterlicchi, I wasn’t confident that he would fill the shoes. How wrong I was. He brought to the role principles and professionalism. It seemed that, when all else was in turmoil (as it so frequently was on Computing), a quiet, smiling calm, pervaded him. He listened to both sides of the argument and made a considered judgement, regardless of the strength of the sales pitch.
The last time I saw Kester was a few years later, when we accidentally met one evening in a Tullamarine departure lounge, both headed for Sydney. We sat next to each other on the flight and then I gave him a lift home. I remember thinking, after I dropped him off, that I had enjoyed his company and that he had given me food for thought. Kester was always generous in spirit. He was a generous person. He was always a gentle man.
Mark Reiss, Computer Publications 1986-1988