zen.org Communal Weblog

July 25, 2011

The Speeches

Filed under: — elana @ 15:11 IST

Speech is such a funny word.  I like tribute better.

Brendan’s brother Derry (Diarmuid) was up first, followed by Christian and then Diarmaid (please follow along in your booklets).


Brendan Patrick Kehoe.

To quote Elana:

“My beautiful, smart, funny, geeky, blue-eyed, bearded, amazing husband died last night with me and two of his aunts holding him.”


That is how the world learned of the passing of one of the kindest, most generous, loving, creative people I had the chance to know. You may suspect that since he was my older brother I may be just a wee bit biased, of course that’s true, but as we grew older I probably learned as much from Brendan as his sons have in their short lives.

We had challenges growing up, our wonderful mother doing all she could to provide for two little boys, with little in the way of resources or opportunity, she did the best for us, raising us to be gentlemen, patient,understanding, and to use every skill given us, wether be hand or mind.

Brendan’s intellectual accomplishments, really, have been down right amazing. From his first hint of computer savvy, when we were teenagers and he discovered the first existence of the internet – in the way of computer bulletin boards you called into with your computer, over the phone, to the subsequent cancellation of our phone service due to the thousands in phone bills those BBS’s generated for our poor mother, to his composition of a computer program to call local numbers, searching for computers he could connect with. Yeah that didn’t go over well either… Fast forward a few years, to Widener University in south Philadelphia, where Brendan, being surrounded by computers and like-minded individuals composed a step by step guide for his compatriots to use to learn all the ways this new inter-connection the universities all around the country were beginning to explore called The Internet. This composition of Brendan’s quickly spread, and before we knew it my 21 year old big brother was a published author, his guide becoming the first mass produced users guide for the internet, being translated into 14 languages, distributed world wide, and utilized by colleges and universities around the world as a teaching tool.

California’s Silicon Valley came calling soon after, and we were so proud.

December 31st of 1993 we almost lost Brendan in a terrible car crash. At the beginning we were told he may not walk again, may not speak, may  not write or understand anything.

His only form of verbal communication was in the realm he felt most at home in, he spoke only in numbers. Ask how he was doing and you would be told 63, 2, and 145. For us in his family it was terrifying, but oddly reassuring as well, since we knew he was still with us there in his numbers.

We were granted a miracle.

He woke one morning and asked where he was and why.

Brendan recovered almost completely, and went back to work, back to California, and then Elana phoned me in Maine looking to get back in touch with her sweetheart of her teenage years. They married a couple of years later, and after a bit decided to pack up and relocate here in Ireland.

I was given the gift of first one, then another fantastic nephews, who have so much of their father in them, both in features as in intellect.

This family is so lucky. And by family I mean not just blood relatives but all here who had the honor of knowing Brendan, who’s lives have been touched by Brendan, smiles given by Brendan, friends and loved ones alike.

To some of you Brendan was your best friend, some of you loved Brendan as if he were your own brother, some you loved him like your own son.

Brendan was to me, my big brother, no matter how many years passed, wether be separated by 500 miles or more than 6000, my big brother was always as close to me as my own heart.

So often when we’d get together we had the occasion to immediately revert to when we were little boys giggling over a secret joke we shared. Just a look from him, or one of his famously raucous belches, and I’d lapse into gales of laughter. There is almost nothing that made me feel as good inside as when I could make him laugh and see his signature knee slap.

We built forts together in the bedroom when we were Patrick and Eoin’s ages, we built our adult lives together regardless of distance, and even in the last four months still we shared a closeness and companionship that only a lucky few could relate to.

He and I had one opportunity to speak face to face on Skype a few months ago, just after the Chemo caused his hair loss. Since I was not able to come see him I elected to keep my head shaved once or twice a week until his treatment was completed. I couldnt let him be the only bald one in the family after all. The delighted look on his face when the video connection established was just priceless. We spent a half hour catching up, sharing stories, and we even took turns carrying the computer around, I gave him a tour of my apartment and he showed me around the ward.

We texted, and spoke on the phone a few days before the doctors sent him home last time…

Brendan lives on in his two fantastic sons, and I can be proud to know, see, and learn from those two young men as they grow in my big brother’s image, continuing the Kehoe legacy, in name and spirit and I’m sure technical and creative talents, and all the while in their faces and hearts, forever there will be. Brendan Patrick Kehoe.



I first met Brendan on the 16th of November 2001, around 6:00 p.m. in The Swan Bar, Aungier Street. I can be that certain because I was with Elana who had just spent the day standing at the top of Grafton Street, 8 months pregnant with Patrick, handing out fliers as part of the internet blackout campaign organized by IrelandOffline, the broadband access lobby group.

I’d just been let go from my job. He said words to that effect of “Don’t worry, it’ll all work out”  I wasn’t impressed. What did this guy know? Sure enough, it was not long before it worked the way he said. It just “worked out”.

We didn’t meet for another while, but I would remain in touch with Elana. When I heard about him, I’d confuse him with other Brendan Kehoe, the one setting up wireless networks with IrishWAN. But that Brendan Kehoe was supposed to be 16 years old and living in Wexford, and this was puzzling, I’ll admit.

It wasn’t long though before we were regularly invited to come over for some Pinot Noir. We became close friends, and when I was roped into building a wireless broadband network from scratch in Mayo, Brendan was the first person I looked to for help.

The whole family came to visit, while Brendan and myself holed up in my office trying to work it all out. We were given a jumble of parts and told that together they made a network, with the added challenge that some of the parts were not going to fit. An early triumph was our being able to send a wireless signal from the top of the stairs to the bottom. Clearly, this was not the other Brendan Kehoe.  Soon we could communicate across a field. Tin cans and string may have been as effective, but nowhere near as many geek points. Piece by piece, we were able to connect up 40 houses to broadband, just in time to meet the funding deadline.

The many beneficiaries over the years of Brendan’s technical support here today will recognize the patience and doggedness Brendan would display when called on to help. He would do so at the drop of a hat. Once he had sunk his teeth into a problem, he would take as long as it took. One time this even involved his helping me to fix a firewall in Mayo, from the island in Maine, over a dodgy satellite connection, while I was on the other end of the phone line, in Brittany.

In the last few years Brendan and I became gig buddies, each one of us taking a turn to bring the other to a gig of our choosing. Some of my friends grew concerned that I was now going to see bands like Yes and Marillion, and enjoying them.…

Brendan, though, was more tolerant of tastes that weren’t his own. He couldn’t be phased. Some of the bands I like, to the untrained ear, could be considered unlistenable. But Brendan was happy to come along, always getting something from the experience. Me, I occasionally drew the line.… I couldn’t be convinced to see Kiss, and while I was happy to drive him to the Nanci Griffith gig in Castlebar, I was just as happy to wait outside and bring him home afterwards.

One of the times I remember having with Brendan was an evening at the beginning of the year, before he took ill. We were losing track of time doing an abstract jigsaw together. One or the other of us would find parts of the edge that joined up, until we had the inner parts enclosed. Patterns would match up until the final picture became clear. By the time we’d finished we realized it was 1:30 in the morning.

That’s how I remember Brendan best. Collaborating. Eager to find out how things fit together. And that finding out was an end in itself.



My name is Diarmaid Mac Aonghusa and I am a friend of Brendan’s. Some of you know me but because of Brendan’s many different networks of friends and colleagues this is my first time meeting many of you.  I’m very honoured to have been asked to speak today by Elana and I thank her for that even though it is a sad and difficult task for me to do.  I’d like to thank you on behalf of the family for coming and I’d also like to mention the many hundreds of people in the US and elsewhere who Brendan connected with on a regular basis but who cannot be here today.To start with, and in the spirit of the man whose life we are here to celebrate, I should make some simple rules clear, namely that Live Tweeting IS allowed, Foursquare, Facebook and Google Plus checkins are also allowed but anyone caught doing something so low tech as texting will be ejected.  And if you didn’t understand any of those things then just stay quiet and someone will explain to you at the end.

I first met Brendan in September 2006 at a meeting in the Dalkey School Project hosted by the then principal Christine Lennon who wanted to see if there were any parents who might help the school with its IT setup.  By the end of that meeting I knew I was going to get on with Brendan for a number of reasons….

– He very clearly knew what he was talking about when it came to IT
– He also sounded like a doer and not just a talker
– And he was American, and as can be evidenced by the fact that I married one, I do quite like our American friends.

Shortly after that we had undertaken to sort out the school’s computers and it very quickly became apparent to me that here was a man who, apart from being intelligent, funny and a great Internet geek, was willing to give up a huge amount of his own time and skills to help others.

As the teachers of the school will testify Brendan’s help to them was invaluable.  Not only would he administer all of the machines he even went so far as to provide a box for the teachers to drop in any questions they had for him and then he would pick them up and deal with them.  It is not a surprise that when I tell that story to teachers from other schools they have a jealous look and wonder why they can’t have a Brendan to help them.

It was also no surprise therefore that he moved quickly to being a member of the Board of Management and from there to being Chairperson of the school and after that to being on the Board of Directors of Educate Together where I was proud to work with him.  He was particularly focused on trying to create a structured approach to the teaching of IT in primary schools which needed to involve the training of teachers aswell as pupils.  He found the current system of each school having a random selection of old PCs paid for by supermarket tokens to be a rather useless method and it’s hard to disagree with that.

Being Chair of the school resulted in having to attend to some formal duties and none more so that when President McAleese came on a visit.  For Brendan this only posed one problem and that was whether or not he would be obliged to wear a tie for the event.  Luckily Elana helped him out by pointing out that since he did not own a tie he really didn’t have much choice in the matter.  The President did not seem to object!

As Vivienne and I got to know Brendan, Elana, Patrick, and then later Eoin we became close friends and enjoyed sharing our experiences of life in the US and comparing it with Ireland – although much of this was the three Americans laughing at how hard it was to find a decent shower in Ireland.  We also came to realise that Brendan and Elana had a whole series of “social networks” in Ireland and the US…..  School, Hackers, Freecycle, DalkeyOpenbottle, the friends in Maine, Hawaii, California and every other place.  Suffice to say – they know a lot of people and over the last few days I‘ve been glad to meet many of them.

In early March, at about 11 in the evening, my phone rang and I saw it was Elana.  I knew something was up.  She told me the news of Brendan’s diagnosis and I was literally speechless – I simply did not know what to say.  He was in the hospital and treatment was to start immediately.

At that point it would have been very understandable if he had simply given up but he did not.  As soon as he could he got his laptop in with him and started to write a daily journal of his experiences in this new chapter of his life.  Brendan was online before any of us – indeed he had written a best selling book about the internet before most people had even heard of it and he certainly wasn’t going to stop now.  Brendan and Elana have hundreds of friends all over the world and they could not contact everyone individually so zen.org became their channel for communication.

The first post made for difficult reading…

“We’ve made it through Day 1.

Yesterday was Day 0, when the doctor said I didn’t have the flu—instead, because of an insanely high white blood cell count, I had some kind of cancer.  …….. then he specified: he was fairly certain I have leukemia.

The world and any concept of reality kind of fell to a crawl for both of us; the world went yellow for Elana, and she couldn’t breathe.  I thought I was hallucinating—my face expected the doctor to quickly correct himself, after realizing he was talking to the wrong people.  Unfortunately, his diagnosis was for me.”

And so began a daily update for his friends and family to read the latest news and send messages of support through.  Always as upbeat as possible, often funny, sometimes angry, sometimes sad but always honest.   In one post from June he discussed the fact that people tend to tell people fighting cancer how brave they are but it’s not bravery – there is no choice…

He said,

“It’s just life, and figuring out how to deal with what you’ve been given.  You push yourself through this experience by managing to get your mind around the idea: since you can’t change what’s happening, you may as well come to grips with the fact that it’s taking place and just ride the course.”

And Brendan did ride the course – he read, he coded, he hacked, he wrote, he listened to bad music, he talked and, to my great surprise, he took up knitting!  Yes, with the support of Elana and tips from the surprisingly large group of tweeting knitters he began a new career.  And yes, he did write about the knitting too but to be honest I kind of skipped over those bits and it came as quite a relief when I visited him a few weeks ago and found that he’d just developed his first Android App – that was more the Brendan I knew.

For his many tech friends it was far more interesting to read of the long battles but final victory with the hospital WiFi system.  For some unknown reason it has a policy of dropping the connection after 20 minutes and making the user re-authenticate – this drove Brendan mad and after many failed attempts trying to find the network administrator in the hospital he decided to work on his own fix.  And of course he succeeded.  To be honest I found it hard to follow it but he seemed to have setup a VPN that would connect from his laptop to his network at home and was able to automatically re-authenticate the hospital connection and from that he used his home UPC connection to get out to the world giving him proper broadband at last.  Again, if you don’t follow this somebody will explain later!

It’s important to note, however, that despite the odd Internet setup and the bloody awful food Brendan received great care in St Vincent’s and the Doctors and in particular the nurses, provided great support and friendship throughout his time there.  In fact many of them started following the blog to find out what he was writing about them.  Our health service has its problems but the care they offered was excellent and I thank them for that.

Brendan’s most cherished role in life was that of father to Patrick and Eoin. He was a patient and loving father to his boys. He loved teaching them, playing with them and being a father to them. And even as ill as he was he made sure he didn’t miss Patrick’s performance in the school play.

As time passed and Brendan did not seem to be reacting to the treatment things became hard to deal with as the inevitability of the outcome became clearer.  Visits to him in hospital remained good – we had an unspoken rule that we never discussed the illness and instead spent our time on technology (he’s not convinced that Google Plus is going to make it, but naturally had an invite before anyone else I knew), on education and telling bad jokes.

And then things started to go badly wrong.  Brendan could no longer update the blog and in one of the final posts that Elana titled “Nothing funny here” we all knew his time was close.  In the hospital I got to meet his wonderful aunts, Helen, Mary and Sheelah, who have provided so much support over the last months and his neighbours who were there for him too. We got to sit with him and we held his hand and on Tuesday with Elana at his side he left us.

And she let her friends know with her perfectly worded post:
“My beautiful, smart, funny, geeky, blue-eyed, bearded, amazing husband died last night with me and two of his aunts holding him.”

On Thursday after a glass of Brendan’s favourite wine in the local wine bar in Glasthule with Elana and family and friends we walked back to the house and I chatted with her outside and it was truly heartening to see the outpouring of support from their neighbours.  Plates of food and bottles of wine from all directions, offers of accommodation – the house across the street has been taken over completely – were fantastic and I think they really helped Elana and the boys.

In the online world the tributes poured in too – with hundreds of messages on the blog, on Facebook and on Twitter.  Many of those messages were from people who had never met Brendan and had simply started following his story through the blog.

And now that Brendan has gone to the next social network we have to say farewell to our friend.

Brendan was a great Irishman, a great American, a great hacker, a great friend, a great father and a great husband.  We will all miss his gentle smile.

Thank you.

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