Daniel Baronet – best of friends for over 30 years
Where to begin? So many memories. Daniel was my best friend, and was so for many years. I could write a book. But it will be a painful book to write, for the weight of such a loss of course, and for all the reasons that anybody who knew him also felt and now express. In my case it seems worse. We were like brothers in some ways, so in Dan, I also see myself.
We go back to the early 80’s at IPSA, Toronto. A bunch of 20-somethings, thrust together at the start of a new and exciting career path that hardly had a name back then. Now we call it IT. Looking back across those years at both our lives, a lot changed but in some ways much stayed the same. Until last month, both of us were playing with APL code every day. Both of us were working with data and designing solutions. Both of us were sharing ideas and helping one another, and others, to solve the problems of the day. That said, Dan was always miles ahead of me in all of these pursuits. He was masterful. He juggled code and data like he juggled that set of coloured balls. It would take me the rest of my life to understand what he intuitively knew of such things.
We hit it off because we had so much in common. Similar interests, a similar outlook and attitudes. A thirst for knowledge, an unquenchable curiosity, a desire to explore. Again, in Dan’s case there’s a 10x factor compared to myself. He opened so many doors, and led the way through them for the rest of us.
Dan was a keen observer of people, and the natural world. My favourite quote from his home spun philosophy book: “kids with wrinkles” – shaking his head and referring mainly to some of the negative sides of adult behaviour often observed – squabbling, bullying, never sharing one’s toys and never really growing up. But he rarely had an unkind word for most, preferring instead to live and let live, a shrug of the shoulders, c’est la vie.
He was a model of frugality. When working in Toronto, he became a regular overnight guest at “the Rex”, a cheap and noisy downtown bar that most locals wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. I could never get over how little he spent, and how little he packed on his trips – one tiny backpack. I felt guilty – what I thought was packing light was still double his load.
Back then, we would hang out at some out-of-the-way pubs, play some billiards, and enjoy some chicken wings. Simple, no-frills entertainment. Occasionally we splashed out – Dan loved Toronto’s Chinatown and had his favourite place there. We also covered most of the restaurant territory in his part of Montréal too – every trip there was another excuse to try some great new menu. Linda would often join us and she had an excellent sense for finding the most interesting and unusual places in town.
Besides APL and work, we shared many other interests. Astronomy, travel, red wine to name a few. Every time I came to visit in Montreal, I used to bring a couple bottles of his favourite Australian vintage – something he couldn’t purchase in Québec. We shared many a glass, recounted many stories, and pondered the ways of the world. It was always fascinating conversation.
Work-wise, APL was always our shared devotion, but I also got Dan involved in promoting a network security product, developed by our IPSA colleagues in Australia. We did our best at sales pitches to business and government levels in Québec. After much effort, we managed to make a major sale in Montréal. But more important than the business we did, those opportunities gave me further reasons to visit with Dan and his family over the years, which was always a great pleasure.
Dan’s favourite place was his Father’s cabin, a small shack in the mountains north of Québec City. I don’t know the full history of the place, but I’m sure it was the spot for many family events and memories from his early days onwards. It was only leased, and in fact Dan tried for years to convince the owner to sell the property, but was unsuccessful. I was lucky enough to visit several times, in several seasons. One Spring weekend, I think I met half his family there. One year, we revelled at the Québec Carnaval d’Hiver, then snow-shoed and skied our way up the mountain to dig out the cabin – a Winter wonderland buried under 4 feet of snow. It was anything but comfortable or civilized, but to Dan it was a paradise.
Dan never hesitated to try new experiences, and there were many. He travelled extensively and as often as possible, to both well-known and exotic destinations. He took on new languages just for fun, as many have observed. Besides the French, English, and Spanish he spoke with ease, he was a serious student of several others including Danish and Russian. As we all know, he had an immediate rapport with people all over the globe. It was remarkable to watch.