Hard News by Russell Brown


Paul Reynolds: A Contribution

Paul Reynolds, internet developer, commentator and catalyst, died suddenly yesterday morning. He would have understood and approved of the way the sad news spread – via Twitter, Facebook and old-fashioned email.

His friend Bill Ralston made the announcement thus on Facebook:

In the spirit with which he lived and pioneered I have to announce this to all his friends online. Dear Paul Reynolds - the magnificent man who told us so much about the whole cosmos of computers and the wonders of the digital world - died this morning of a leukaemia he (and we) never knew he had. Our thoughts are with Helen and his much loved daughter Melanie

Like everyone else, I was dumbfounded. I last saw him exactly a week ago, at Social Media Junction, where he had, as ever, expressed his vision for what our new tools could do.

I met Paul in 1995, when he was, with David Merritt, the co-author of The Internet: A New Zealand Guide. Paul had been a book reviewer and a reader for Penguin New Zealand and other imprints, and he pitched Geoff Walker at Penguin the idea of a handbook for the new medium. It eventually sold more than 10,000 copies.

There may have been some professional rivalry at play – Bruce Simpson and I wrote a more modest guide, The Internet: Plain and Simple for IDG around the same time – but this interesting Scotsman turned out to be good to know. He brought a whole other history with him: I believe he once helped run the legendary London jazz club Ronnie Scott's. Plenty of life had been lived before the internet arrived for him.

Most people will recall him as the Scotsman who talked on the radio to Kim Hill and through his columns for The Dominion, but his great and enduring contribution to New Zealand lies in the heritage sector – libraries, archives and museums.

McGovern Online, the development company he launched with his partner, Helen Smith, built the first proper website for Auckland City Library. Sites for the Waitangi Tribunal, Katherine Mansfield House, the Chartwell Collection,the Colin McCahon House and six years' worth of websites for the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival make up only part of the portfolio.

He served on the New Zealand Government Digital Strategy Advisory Group, the Capability Panel for the Advanced Network (KAREN), the New Zealand Library and Information Advisory Commission, and the board of Auckland War Memorial Museum.

In March, he completed his term as the adjunct director of the National Digital Library, farewelling the job with a valedictory lecture entitled Living and Learning in the Cloud.

In the same month, he was invited to write this post, a celebration and critique of the New Zealand GLAM sector (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums) for the Museums Computer Group in Britain. And he made an excellent appearance on a Media7 show focused on the state of the internet in New Zealand. (Video: Part 1 and Part 2.)

When I saw Paul last Monday, he was coming off a busy schedule of lectures and presentations around the country. We had a good chat about the state of things, and about the work my sons have been doing this year. He was delighted by that. He also asked us not to invite him to Foo Camp next year – he felt he'd made his contribution, and a place should be opened to someone younger "with more energy than me."

I don't think anyone would ever have accused Paul Reynolds of lacking energy. But that he'd made his contribution? No one could ever doubt that. Rest in peace, Paul. You changed your adopted country more than you could know.

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