How do you honor the life of a passionate technophile? The brother of Microsoft technical evangelist William Fink found a particularly fitting way, by writing an obituary filled with references to the things to which Fink had dedicated his life.
“William Ralph ‘Bill’ Fink, 46,” the obituary begins, “encountered an unhandled exception in his core operating system, which prematurely triggered a critical ‘STOP’ condition on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015.”
The obituary was published in the Belleville News-Democrat on Dec. 20, 2015, and promptly went viral on Reddit, shocking Fink’s youngest brother Matthew, who wrote the obituary with two of Bill’s childhood friends who “also shared his passion for technology,” Matthew said in an email to The Washington Post.
“Diagnostics indicated multiple cascading hardware failures as the root problem. Though his hardware has been decommissioned, Bill’s application has been migrated to the Cloud and has been repurposed to run in a virtual machine on an infinite loop,” the obituary reads, ending with a Tron reference, “<END OF LINE>”
“My brother Bill was a HUGE technology and computer nerd from back before it was “cool” to be geeky,” Matthew told us. His fondest memories of his older brother involve playing “old school” computer games – “the kinds that required 10+ floppy disks to load,” and watching “Star Trek” and “The X-Files” together.
Bill loved his job as a Technical Evangelist, Matthew said, describing his excitement at the idea of working for Microsoft – before even actually getting the job offer in 2013, as “akin to a Star Wars fan getting picked up by the actual Millennium Falcon—it was a dream come true.”
But in April of this year, Bill was diagnosed with pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer. “Bill wasn’t ready to stop working, and if the cancer hadn’t come on so strong so fast, he probably would have tried to work until the very end,” Matthew said. “Bill’s story didn’t deserve a tragic ending, which is what inspired me to memorialize Bill in a way that spoke to his deepest passion: technology.”
Viral obituaries have become more common lately – a phenomenon that Slate examined earlier this year. The short items, usually written by a loved one, have turned the attention of the viral machine from time to time towards lives that might otherwise go unnoticed by it. And while Matthew was completely surprised to find that his brother’s obituary had gone viral, he said it was a fitting tribute to Bill.
“Bill didn’t want a funeral, he didn’t want a memorial, and he didn’t want to be mourned,” Matthew told us. Instead of a funeral, Bill asked his family to honor him after his death by “sharing a meal together at their favorite restaurant to celebrate life, friendship, and fond memories.”
“The fact that so many millions have read and shared Bill’s obituary,” Matthew said, “is a better send-off than I could have ever hoped to achieve.”
As the obituary spread online, both friends and strangers left condolences, memories, and jokes on the funeral home’s tribute site, and on Reddit. “I’m on Bill’s team at Microsoft, and loved seeing this here. Thanks for posting. Bill was very kind and fun. Upvotes for Bill!” one Redditor wrote.
“To me, the most touching bit was the myriad people who didn’t even know my brother talking about how they wish they’d met him,” Matthew said. “His memory truly has been migrated to the Cloud, may his bandwidth never be throttled.”
The full obituary is below, or you can read it at the funeral home’s website.
This post has been updated to include an interview with Matthew Fink.