As many of you know by now, I’m one of the longest active Microsoft MVPs in the program.  I’ve seen and experienced almost 25 years of helping Microsoft users on a variety of different forums.  This, by default, makes me an MVP historian of sorts and I’ve published a number of blog articles detailing some of that history.  I had a chance this last week to revisit some of it in response to a question I received from Mr. Excel himself, MVP Bill Jelen:

Hello Hal,

At my first MVP Summit (so your tenth Summit), Bill Gates was the keynote speaker.  It was his last time to speak at the Summit. They took Q&A and a bunch of guys lined up at a microphone to ask a question of the richest man in the world. An old, grizzled MVP with an out-of-control beard arrives at the microphone and begins berating Bill Gates because Microsoft was abandoning NNTP newsgroups.  Do you remember this?  Bonus points if you can tell me the name of that MVP.  

Yes, indeed, I DO remember that!  I remembered the incident, but not exactly who that was; from the description, however, I had a pretty good idea.  There was one I.E/Outlook Express MVP who fit that bill to a “T” and, while I was fairly certain it was him, I needed a little verification.  Fortunately, we Desktop Systems (DTS) MVPs setup a remailer years ago to keep us in touch with each other, so I relayed the question to them.  The response was unanimous and matched my recollections, this was the 2005 Summit and the MVP in question was Frank Saunders.

This was a time when Microsoft was moving their help forums away from NNTP (Network News Transfer Protocol) into the web world and a platform that would come to be known as the Answers Forums, still going strong today.  There were a good many MVPs who resisted this change, seeing no need for it since the NNTP platform, in their view, was more than adequate for the task.  Frank was one of them. Frank relished his role as a curmudgeon and, when the opportunity to grab a microphone and express his opinion came along, he jumped on it; the mere fact that it was Bill Gates he was talking to made no difference at all, he expressed this dislike as only he could, loud and profound.  It would not surprise me if Bill, himself, remembers it to this day.

This wasn’t the only time Frank created a stir.  He was, at a later Summit (2008, I believe), reasonably irate, sometimes humorously so, not only on NNTP, but also Answers being referred to as a Community, OE vs. Vista’s Windows Mail vs. Live Mail (Windows Mail was already on the way out with the transition to the ‘Live’ presence in Windows).  He even had a few comments about Ed Bott signing books at the Summit MVP Product Team meal gathering, held on campus that year.  Underneath all that gruff was a very nice and helpful person.

Frank passed away on January 4, 2009.  He’d had medical problems for several years, his wife managed to keep him alive longer than we expected, but we were heartbroken when that fateful day came.  I offer this remembrance of Frank from Brian Boston, our MVP lead at the time:

Thinking about Frank Saunders
On January 4th, 2009, Internet Explorer MVP Frank Saunders passed away from a chronic illness. Other than communicating with a few of you and Frank’s wife, Mary, I haven’t written a lot about Frank…but I have been thinking about him a lot.
Frank was given the MVP Award at least ten times, starting with Outlook Express in the late 1990s and helped shape and mentor a number of his fellow MVPs over the years. I meet Frank about half-way through that time when I started managing the Outlook Express MVPs. Recently, Frank’s expertise changed to Internet Explorer but that was a technicality; he has been active equally in IE and OE/Mail areas for years.

He was quite a character, presenting himself as a curmudgeon but like many curmudgeons, had a soft center. For years, Frank’s past was a mystery to me. I think he took some delight in maintaining that mystery. It was only in the last year of his life that I learned of his other life, teaching high school and working in radio before becoming a quality engineer and eventually a manager of quality engineers…and that is because he quietly updated his MVP profile from its previous entry…”I am not dead…yet.”

What isn’t a mystery was Frank’s passion for helping others…something he did at a prodigious rate up until just a few weeks before his death. In just 2008, He posted over 5,000 replies in 53 newsgroups. Google Groups estimates that he posted over 92,000 times since the year 2000. During that time he only missed posting two months and averaged 866 posts per month during the eight years they tracked him. I marveled at the sheer number of people who benefited from his advice directly and the many others indirectly whose experiences with our software are better because of him.

So, I think about Frank a lot. His old web site is now gone (shut down a few weeks ago) and his MVP profile was finally been retired this week, but his memory lives on with many of us who knew and learned from him as well as those who benefitted from his counsel. He is missed but not forgotten…

Rest in Place, Frank

For those of you who wish, Frank’s family has requested any remembrances be contributed to the American Cancer Society.

Frank is not the only DTS MVP we’ve lost, the list includes Sir Alex Nichol, Dr. Steve Cochran, Robear Dyer, and Mike Maltby, to name just a few.  As this fate awaits us all, I’m sure we will meet again one day.  In the meanwhile, I know in my heart that Frank is still giving his unbiased opinion, wherever he may be.  God Speed, Sir!

Thank you to all the DTS MVPs who helped with the details, Terri Stratton, Steve Wechsler, Sandi Hardmeier, Maurice Naggar, G. Winston Natoli, Chris Quirke, and Glen Ventura.