Everything about using the past tense when referring to Robert L. Davis aka @SQLSoldier feels wrong, but it’s true – Robert left this world a few days ago. Many years ago, I read his awesome book on database mirroring, and for a long time, that was my only connection to him.
Then in early 2013, I went on SQL Cruise, and part of the follow up was to start blogging. The topic of my first post was how I got into SQL Server, and when someone tweeted about it, Robert responded:
That was the essence of Robert’s spirit: always encouraging others.
Later that year, I met Robert at the PASS Summit, and discovered that we both had an over-the-moon affection for dogs. The conversation was short; I mostly listened to him and Argenis Fernandez trade war stories about when they worked together, but was thrilled to have finally met both of them.
In the ensuing years, the interaction between Robert and I was probably typical of his interactions with others – I followed him on Twitter, and would ask questions on #sqlhelp that he responded to – our connection was “virtual”. I saw him speak at PASS at least once, and watched videos of him presenting on a variety of SQL topics. His experience was vast, and he had an unending thirst for knowledge.
Then one day, he followed me back, and I was sort of “walking on clouds”, as they say.
Fast forward a bit, and I received a message from Robert that he’d be moving to my home town (NYC), and he was asking about the SQL community here.
He explained to me that he intended to buy a house, and knowing that he used a cane, I asked him why he wouldn’t want to live in an apartment.
And so I began to realize that Robert was a very private person, and although he obviously had a burning desire to help people, something about him was not crazy about “the public”.
We had some more back and forth about his potential move, some of it related to mass transit:
And then one day, I was somewhat stunned to receive this note from Robert:
I began the process of interviewing for a position on Robert’s team, and had a lot of interaction with him along the way. When it came time for the face-to-face, I will admit that I was somewhat terrified at the thought of receiving a technical interview from Robert. At the interview, he and his manager came up almost completely empty handed in the question department! Maybe they had a big lunch, maybe the stars had aligned, I don’t know, but I was struck by how uncomplicated it was. I wrote him afterwards, and apologized for missing a bunch of stuff.
I wish I would have been able to get to know Robert really well, but alas that was not to be. He and I shared the “really want to help others” philosophy of life, and when I saw him at the interview, I could see he was struggling with his personal health. I came really close to saying something – I thought to myself, here’s a person who can help anyone else, but has difficulty helping himself. I considered contacting others who knew Robert better than I, to try and talk to him. I’m not sure if the outcome would have been any different, but there’s a part of me that deeply regrets not trying.
But there’s risk in doing that, and I suppose I valued my connection with Robert more than taking a chance that I’d offend him, and have it affect our relationship.
Here’s to Robert L. Davis – our @SQLSoldier – a person who truly defined the gold standard of what it means to be a community contributor. He loved dogs without abandon, and received a lot by giving of himself. Not a bad life, when you look at it that way.
I am extremely grateful that our paths crossed.