General Voices

John Rusty Harris, 1954-2015


Love from Ann



Silicon Valley is  a very big story from apricots to autonomous vehicles to augmented reality and artificial intelligence.  It’s exciting and transformative.   It is overwhelming and fabulous.  It’s sad and lonely and full of failure and full of success. All at once.

And in that story are thousands of others.  On December 22, 2015 one story ended.  But promises were made to the protagonist and herein lies his tale.

John Rusty HarrisJohn’s picture (seen here on one of our trips to Santa Barbara) is on the business card of because he was my friend, I knew his story, –  tech and otherwise –  and he was, in a way, Everyman.  If you knew John you knew everything from playful and happy to sad and brooding to new ideas bouncing around to old ideas he couldn’t disengage from.

 Like so many here he was tech before the world called us cool and the media spilled ink on the lifestyles of the nerdy and wealthy. Rusty was an expert in his field, always being called upon, always with a job calling out to him. He loved his work. It anchored him. From UC Berkeley days and his engineering degrees to  his last job at US Lidar, there was a string of successes he was known for. 

So put aside your iPhone and stop guessing how soon an autonomous car will be picking you up.  Don’t worry about your pitch deck or if sex with robots is ethical.  Forget if we are turning into cyborgs with 3D printed parts. Forget the singularity and Kurzweil.  Right now this is a stop (a rest) for John.   Tim, Mark,  Sergey, Elon and  Marissa exit stage left.

“Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.” 
― John Lennon

John Rusty Harris. He answered to John or Rusty but loved it when  I greeted him, “Hello, Mr. Harris”.

I spent the last years of Rusty’s life with him and we shared stories, laughter and tears nearly every day. “My dear Queen Crimson Ann, I love you so.” begins a letter from him and his final text to me spoke of love. I kept his voice mails, I listen to him.

I was not prepared for his death. I was never prepared for his life either, from chaos to peace and back again,  but alive we could talk it out, ignore it, argue it passionately, or make it better. His last breath was agonizing. I was alone having to process his death.  I stayed with him after that last heartbeat and continued playing music as I’d done all day. The night before I read to him from Tibetan Book of the Dead. As we sat together for the last time I played Knock, Knock, Knocking on Heaven’s Door. (n.b. For the science behind this see Robert Lanza, MD and his quantum theory of consciousness called biocentrism. TIME Magazine named him one of the top 100 most influential people. He has appeared with Stephen Hawking and is CMO at Ocata Therapeutics.)

This is an intimate post to celebrate and memorialize the soul of Rusty with affection and honor his request: “Be my voice when mine is lost or gone.”  He left papers for me to be read after his death – some about his son, some from his doctors,  – oh how some made me laugh – only Rusty would leave a 2008 email to his divorce lawyer outlining the  support monies spent on his ex and explaining he wanted it to end because  “I don’t want to be her retirement plan but that’s what she said she wants.”  How right he was  – she scooped up everything now as she did before as described by Rusty’s friends and sister Ruth.  So toxic apparently was this woman to Rusty that his sister had a password to be used at the hospital to keep her away.  Oh, Rusty, the world you lived in – it’s a wonder the heart lasted as long as it did. Kudos to you for that.

Rusty left an email telling me to take what he has in his huge storage locker after his death but seeing the land grab of his families,  ooh boy, no thanks!   I’m donating it to the ex and the sister  – according to what Rusty’s friends tell me: “stuff” makes them happy.  I always thought one grieved at death, from them I learned other lessons.

I saw none of that greediness in Rusty and that made him who he is.  There were times when he had given so much away he had nothing. We took care of each other at times like this because there was trust. I trusted repayment, he trusted assistance.

The slideshow  reflects everything from his relationship to 2 of my adult children to the many places we visited.   They are a small part of the times we shared. I was lucky to know Rusty intimately – the joys and the sorrows  – and to be the resting place he trusted and returned to.  He wrote: “Ann is my exclusive when it comes to sharing thoughts.”   It was a privilege. To share troubles is not always where we want to be but the strength  he had to get through family dysfunction from not one but two families makes me admire him even more.   His was not an easy path in marriage or bio family. He knew the pathology of both and tried to overlook it but it isn’t easy. He tried to overcome the dysfunction surrounding him using his huge work ethic and success.  His love of guitars and music and engineering was monumental.  His love to me and his friends was always there no matter the troubles coupled with it.   To know Rusty meant we knew the default position was difficult but those who cared accepted it  without revenge and rage.

Rusty and I were writing a book. . We began it using a devise of letter writing. Using people in our lives as well as ourselves as the infrastructure we  fictionalized dialogue and plot through letter writing.  Rusty’s life was compartmentalized and this was a window few knew about. But he wanted to voice the pain so others could  avoid the same. .  Creativity was the infrastructure – mix emotions and inventions and you got Rusty. Our fictionalized story is lost now and will remain incomplete. His story ended and I am left to give him voice as he so wanted.

Few knew he wrote love letters constantly and told me how much he loved his brothers. He made his peace with the loss of a son in the past year understanding the role a mother plays as a bridge to facilitating a relationship and his ex never played that role.  It would have broken his heart that Miles refused to see him as he lay dying. But he knew how broken the mother was how she could never be a bridge and find the words to help Miles cross that bridge. Rusty reached out so many, many times in so many ways to his only son and in the end he accepted what had been done to him.

The pics  are carefully chosen,  pics of each other we took and liked.  Even the Stanford sweatshirt was an approved pic (shoutout to Cal in all fairness)  and the Big Game was a house divided time for us.  The pics are a small window to times together including 2 of my 3 children who Rusty became friends with. His death was  felt by them and memories of games, trips, home cooked meals and so much more was fondly remembered.

One of the most interesting things Rusty and I adventured together on was his helping me put together one of my books. It was the one I was most excited about, a collection of slice of life essays. I loved getting his reactions to the essays which moved from the oversexualization of little girls to corrupt lawyers, to genetics, psychology, to happiness and so much more.  Finding out what were his favorites was a window into Rusty.

Here’s a wee bit of one of my stories  he loved.

I wrote this in 2008, met Rusty in 2010. He thinks I somehow knew I was going to meet him. Read it and you will see why.

You choose. Do we have the glass half full playbook or the glass half empty? The silver lining playbook or the nimbus cloud?

It helps to be born with the optimism gene and let life’s little terrors bounce off your resilient back.  Not only do glass half full people usually get to choose which silver lining they want, they have healthier immune systems, laugh more,  have more friends and end up wealthier. Health and wealth and an endless checklist of ways to get through the tough times does appear to  make the journey easier.

But, you say, you were not born with the optimism gene.  What then? Misery, poverty, a lonely, short and sick life?

Not necessarily.  The nimbus cloud that follows you around dropping storms, the glass that always looks like it will soon be empty, are movable, changeable.  DNA is not always destiny.

It isn’t always easy falling into crevices where others grow wings or reach for the stars and grab only cosmic dust.  Life seems to be so easy for some people. But if the roll of the cosmic dice didn’t bring you a loving family of origin or a trust fund or a gene to make you burst out singing “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” in public, you can take heart that there are such things as post traumatic growth, and know that adversity brings resilience,  and

“You do not have to be good.  You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves…Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”    (Mary Oliver)       -end-

>>He loved the thought that nothing was required to be loved,  only to be himself.  What a relief that was as he shouldered burdens in so many ways and tried so hard.  For Rusty the place in the family of things was always being reinvented.  Every few months he would reconnect with people he hadn’t seen in ages.  He’d call them, email or show up at their door, a reminder that he was around, remembered them, and would say:

“By the way, have you seen my new guitar?”


I held his hand and with my head on his chest Rusty took his last breath. I heard his heart. It was a good one. If only Stanford knew how to really fix a heart.







“And by the way, have you seen my new guitar?” John Rusty Harris




My sites:  TheSiliconValleyStory,  Guide to MarsDNA is ME, Divorce and Lawyers,  NarcissisticAbuse and Power Guide for Women

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Patrice Ventresca
    February 5, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    O dear Ann, now I have met Rusty. You are a window to his heart. You are his voice when his was lost.

  • Reply
    Denny K Miu
    February 6, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    john and i were classmates at berkeley around 1978. we sat next to each other in professor steidel’s introduction to vibration (me 169, i think). berkeley was not a place where you made lots of friends and both john and i had few, but we had each other. we studied together and we ate together.

    i remembered one day he was in my dorm studying and he got up all the sudden and said he had to go get some mushrooms. i asked where and he said just around the corner. but he never came back and on the next day, i saw him in crutches. it turned out he had tripped himself running across the street. i said with a smile, “someday those shrooms will kill you.” i woke up this morning receiving the email that john has passed away. all i could think of is john smiling back at me and said, “no, they won’t.”

    i went to john’s wedding which had the reception at the berkeley faculty club. it was a beautiful wedding and i met his wife, his mother and his brother. john was a happy man. he had graduated and he had gotten a well paying job doing what he was trained to do and what he was good at.

    john had great compassion for his family. john did not have his life delivered to him on a silver patter. but that never stopped him from making the best of what he got and gave back unconditionally the best he could to those he loved. and he loved his family and his friends.

    music was john’s escape. in music he found his peace. john took with him only his music but he left us with his love.

  • Reply
    Yvette Sabin
    July 1, 2019 at 8:44 am

    I weep as I read this tender testimony – the feelings flow deeply releasing my tears. Great love and compassion is given here and I am blessed to be a recipient. Thank you, Ann. You have strengthened and ennobled the life of your friend.

Leave a Reply