Emru Townsend

I don’t have any records on this, but I first encountered Emru Townsend about twenty years ago. Twenty years ago almost exactly–the fall of 1988, I believe. We met each other on the online service BIX, and while we didn’t meet in person until many years later, I count our friendship as beginning when we first met online.

Emru and I lived in different cities in different countries (he was from Montreal) and came from different backgrounds, but we had a heck of a lot in common. We both loved animation and comics. We both loved gadgets (especially Amiga computers, which we both owned back then). We both loved words and pictures–both the consumption and the creation thereof. When BIX launched a section to animation, it was therefore no surprise that we both helped to run it. And we continued to happily collaborate, in one way or another, from then on–he wrote for my fanzine, I wrote for his fanzine, and he ended up doing lots of wonderful work for PC World, the magazine and Web site where I worked.

In those good old BIX days, I was in touch with Emru on more or less a continuous basis, and he was such a vivid personality that I felt like I knew him extremely well even though we’d never laid eyes on each other. He was smart, funny, talented, and, above all, a remarkably calm, sensible person. When we finally did meet, when I visited Montreal on business, it felt sort of like a small family reunion with someone I’d never encountered in person and who wasn’t a relative, along with his wife, Vicky. Emru cooked me steak and walked me around town (including a stop at the comic shop where his sister, Tamu, worked), and we sat around and talked, and talked. He was precisely the same person I loved knowing online.

One of the small highlights of my career to date involved a story idea I came up with for PC World called “The Ten Worst Games of All Time.” Several people on staff politely told me that it was it was a marginal idea for an article. I kind of liked it, and assigned it to Emru. He did a bang-up job, and it was very popular. And then I was listening to one of my favorite radio shows, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and heard it do a segment on the show. I pinged Emru to see if he knew, and he said that he did, and that Wait Wait was a favorite of his, too. Sheer joy.

In recent years, Emru blogged for PC World, and helped us cover the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas each January, so that show turned into another mini-reunion each year. (He often talked about his son, Max.) He was going to attend CES 2008 for us, but shortly before the show, he was feeling poorly and saw a doctor. He soon learned he had leukemia–and that his best chance at beating it would require finding a match for a bone marrow transplant.

He reacted in typical Emru fashion: He and Tamu founded a site called Heal Emru which was in part a platform for trying to find a donor–but it ended up spreading the word about bone marrow donations in general. I know that it will save lives.

Emru got his bone marrow transplant, and blogged about it at Heal Emru, with typical grace and good humor. But it wasn’t enough. He passed away tonight, with his family at his bedside. I’m still trying to process this information, but I feel extremely fortunate to have known him.

More to come…