The Catholic Roots of Silicon Valley Legend Chuck Geschke

“This best part of a good man’s life;
His little acts without name and without memory
Kindness and love. “

—William Wordsworth

The next time you print something from your computer or send a PDF document, you can thank technology innovator Charles “Chuck” Geschke, whose death on April 16 was marked by a wave of tributes in the media. national.

Geschke, a computer scientist turned entrepreneur, is famous for the revolutionary print and document technology that he and his fellow scientist, John Warnock, developed through their company, Adobe Systems. Geschke and Warnock transformed the way the world communicates today.

Although famous for building one of the largest and most admired companies in Silicon Valley, Geschke, son and grandson of typographic photo engravers, born in Cleveland, lived a life reflecting his deep Catholic roots and Jesuits. These beginnings shaped the extraordinary story of kindness, honesty and service that has so distinguished his long career.

I was fortunate enough to work with this Silicon Valley legend as a board member for nine years at Jesuit University in San Francisco. Chuck not only chaired the USF Board of Trustees during a period of change and strengthening, but went on to teach entrepreneurship in the college’s business school.

We were also both founding members of the board of directors of the leadership roundtable, an organization formed to promote best management practices within church-related organizations – a passion that Chuck shared with many Catholic businessmen disgusted by the abysmal quality of church leadership that contributed to the scandal abuse of the clergy.

As I got to know this incredible business leader, I was repeatedly impressed by his humble attitude, his extraordinary listening skills and the fervent respect for other human beings that have always characterized his interactions.

These attributes undoubtedly reflected the loving family that raised Chuck and the one he and his beloved Nan later formed through decades of strong family life. But Chuck was also nurtured by the extensive educational and spiritual training provided by the Jesuit communities at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, over three years of training at the Jesuit seminary in Milford, Ohio, and studies at Xavier University in Cincinnati. . At John Carroll University in Cleveland, Chuck taught mathematics while working on a doctorate at Case Western Reserve University. He then completed his doctorate. at Carnegie Mellon University.

It was an Ignatian ability to discern the significance in the mundane events of life that seemed to explain a monumental important but risky decision the newly married Chuck had made in high school. Following a random visit from a former student, Chuck shifted his doctoral studies from mathematics to the new world of computer science. His ability to listen and think prompted a decision that would open up an amazing future in technology that would benefit the whole world.

Geschke Told John Carroll University graduates in 2012 that his Jesuit education “equipped me to face these experiences and achieve dreams I never dared to imagine.” And it wasn’t always good luck, as Chuck discovered in the spring of 1992. Kidnapped at gunpoint in his company’s parking lot, he was held for ransom for several days, shackled and gagged in an abandoned house. He was eventually rescued by the FBI, and his captors were subsequently arrested and jailed.

I once asked him about this traumatic incident and he shyly told me what he had done to stay calm. He said he quietly recited the Rosary, aware that he was unlikely to see his family again, but still blessed with a kind of peace that came over him and an awareness of the divine presence.

While Chuck Geschke’s scientific and commercial success largely qualifies him for a place of pride in the annals of Silicon Valley, it is something else worth celebrating by those of us who belong to. the church he so skillfully and generously served: his extraordinary example of integration. the Christian values ​​of human respect, kindness and justice in everyday life.

If he and Nan have ever sat in front of Christ one day, Chuck said during a presentation to the National Association of Catholic Education a few years ago he wanted to be able to say, ‘We heard you, and we didn’t do it perfectly, and probably not as well as we should have, but we’ I tried. We have tried to listen and do what you asked us to do. “

“And, if I could do that,” Chuck added, “I would be a very happy man.”

[Frank J. Butler is the author of Belonging: One Catholic’s Journey (Orbis 2020) an Illumination Award winning biography. He is an NCR board member.]

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