Following is a guest post from my good friend Jonathan Wander.
One year ago, on October 5th, 2011, Steve Jobs died.
This is the story of the (sort of) personal encounter I had with the legendary co-founder and CEO of Apple, and his kindness and generosity to two people who are not only dear to me, but also to all readers of That’s Church. My thanks to Ginny for allowing me to tell it here. There’s nowhere else I’d rather tell it.
As memorable birthdays go, January 19th, 2010 was pretty much a record setter for Ali McMutrie. On the day she turned 22, Ali had just been rescued from a week of hell following the Haitian earthquake. I don’t need to retell the details here of the heroism of Ali and her sister, Jamie. The way they kept 150 orphaned kids in their care alive and well in the face of almost no supplies and increasing danger. The 54 kids they brought back to Pittsburgh with them, each going to their adoptive families. You all know the story—it’s proud Pittsburgh history at this point—and I wrote about it when Ali and Jamie were named Pittsburghers of the Year in Pittsburgh Magazine’s January 2011 issue.
Ginny and I are fortunate enough to be friends with Ali and Jamie, and board members of their non-profit organization, Haitian Families First. I can tell you that “earthquake week” is a sleepless blur she and I will never forget. As she’s said here, we have stories. But thinking too deeply about the week before the rescue makes me queasy.
As relieved and happy Ali was to be safe and in Pittsburgh on the day of the rescue, her heart was torn. Jamie had jumped off the plane on the Port-au-Prince runway to go back to find Emma who had fallen asleep in the airport and was left behind. (Emma, by the way, had turned 3 on the day of the quake). The sisters had promised each other not to separate, but Ali was now alone. At Children’s Hospital, I watched as Ali worked tirelessly, making sure each of the 54 children was cared for, speaking to them in Haitian Kreyol so they understood what was happening in the strange place with these strange people, these dozens of caregivers and hospital staff.
Ali was bleary-eyed, hadn’t showered in a week, and had barely eaten for days. No amount of convincing could get her to rest. Finally, when she was assured that all the children were asleep, we went to the cafeteria. After she ate, Ali asked to borrow my MacBook so she could go online for the first time in a week. I thought of the white MacBook Jamie and Ali had gotten just a few months earlier, after a long time of saving up for it. The computer was more than a machine for work and leisure—it was a lifeline, their connection to family, friends and Pittsburgh. It immediately hit me where their MacBook was. “Yep,” Ali said, “Gone in the earthquake.”
In the spirit of “it can’t hurt to ask,” I said, “Do I have your permission to write to Steve Jobs? Maybe you could get a discount and replace it.” Ali smiled and said, “You have my permission.”
Late that night I wrote an email to Steve Jobs. I knew he occasionally responded to customer emails, often with his trademark succinct, “Yep” or “Nope.” I also knew that he didn’t have a reputation, at least publicly, of generosity. But it was worth a shot. I told their story, said how important their computer was to them, included some links to their appearances that week on CNN from Haiti, stressed that they worked as volunteers in Haiti so had very little money, and asked if they might receive a discount on replacing their MacBook.
The next afternoon, I received an email from a woman in the “Office of the CEO.” It read simply:
Steve Jobs forwarded me the email you sent him about Jamie and Ali. At your first convenience, please provide me with their respective shipping address(s).
“Their” “address(s)”? The woman included her phone number, so I called. I told her how excited I was about the response, but reminded her that Jamie and Ali only had one MacBook. She said she knew, but that Mr. Jobs was very touched, and wanted to send them each a replacement. A few days later, Jamie and Ali did not receive white MacBooks. Steve upgraded them to new MacBook Pros.
A year ago I was sitting at Las Velas, my favorite restaurant (which, as you know, is owned by Ginny’s husband David), enjoying margaritas and talking with my friend Vivian. The conversation was our usual mish-mash, including talk about my then part-time job at the Apple Store in Ross Park Mall, an 18-month stint (begun long after my letter) that was one of the greatest experiences of my life. We also spoke about our friends Jamie and Ali and updates on their work in Haiti. When I saw on Twitter (where all news breaks) that Steve had died, I was heartbroken. But it all came together in one place—in Ginny’s restaurant, talking about Jamie and Ali with Vivian, who has since become a board member and miraculous force in helping advance the work of Haitian Families First.
Tonight, in Port-au-Prince and Pittsburgh respectively, Jamie and Ali are in front of the Macs Steve gave them, connecting with each other and working for the Haitian families and children they love and who so desperately need them.
Steve Jobs was a genius. He may have also been, by some accounts, kind of a jerk. I’m grateful for the extraordinary technology he brought to market that I enjoy so much — technology that I know, from my time at Apple, has a profound impact on many people, including parents of autistic children who would tell me in tears how the iPad has changed their kids’ lives. But in the most personal way, I’ll always be grateful to Steve Jobs for responding to my email with kindness and generosity.
So here’s my request to you. Visit Jamie and Ali’s Haitian Families First website. See the life-saving work they’re doing. They’re in urgent need of baby formula and so much more. That money you may or may have not spent on some of Apple’s great products, or in iTunes, iBooks or the App Store? Please match a bit of Steve’s generosity with some of your own.