I had the distinct privilege (and what I would later recognize as great fortune) to work closely with Rupert for my first year or so at Esri, as we collaborated on what would become the Cascade StoryMap template. I only mention Cascade specifically here because Rupert would chide me if I didn’t. To be a new employee, jumping into a new team and new project, I found Rupert to be a stalwart source of encouragement, humor, and honest feedback.
When I heard he had passed away I stood for some moments, unable to connect the reality of the news to my living impression of a man of singular energy and vibrancy.
In daily scrum meetings, held online to accommodate our distributed team, I would relish opportunities to type messages to Rupert to crack his professional façade and betray a smile. This was unfairly easy because Rupert’s default face was of beaming joy. It was only with some effort that he could, with mixed success, suppress a smile.
Once on a call with Rupert my young daughter walked into the office. Rupert took the opportunity to type a message…
Rupert Essinger 1:11 PM:
I think my accent made your daughter look quite surprised
John Nelson 1:11 PM:
She can’t hear you since I have headphones on. But I’m sure it WOULD have!
Rupert Essinger 1:11 PM:
she thought the Red Coats were back in the Great Lakes area
John Nelson 1:11 PM:
She’s just shocked at how still you are standing. Without blinking. (my screen would have shown a static profile picture of Rupert)
Rupert Essinger 1:12 PM:
It would be educational for her to hear what the accent of the natural and true rulers of the US colonies sounds like.
John Nelson 1:13 PM:
I’m trying really hard to think of a good comeback. But there’s a traffic jam of them!
Rupert Essinger 1:14 PM:
Michigan’s original name was New Henley By The Lakes
To know Rupert was an opportunity to absorb, and frequently be swept off by, his enthusiasm for the world around him. Most of what I know about the history of Washington DC, San Diego, and Redlands, was learned on Rupert-guided marathon walking tours, me struggling to keep pace with his long strides as he pointed to every third building to let us know its backstory.
Rupert’s gait, as best I can describe it, was like someone falling forwards trying with their legs to keep up with their head while at the same time that of someone casually strolling with a wide carefree swing of the arm. The walk of zeal and appreciation. Even when Rupert was sitting still (with enviable posture) at his desk he was not still. Rupert rocked in his seat. He rocked, I think, because stillness was not in his nature.
I did see him motionless once, though. It was while standing at his back porch in the evening, watching the long tide roll into his wetland view. That view, that cycle, that living earth that he was beholding stilled him.
I live in the Midwest and have a rather large family so a couple years back I bought a quarter of a cow from a local farmer. Something people around here do sometimes. Local, quality, affordable. Rupert was fascinated by this transaction and for some time thereafter when introducing me via emails or in person, would frequently make mention of it.
I think we shared a mutual fascination and admiration. He for my Americanness, and me for his Rupertness.
Once Rupert gave Owen Evans and I a walking tour of San Diego’s Mission Bay and Crystal Pier. He rounded a corner and proudly stood before a hand-painted wall map on the side of a hostel. He stood there admiring it for some time then reviewed the progress of our walk so far in the context of various landmarks. He looked at Owen and I with a smile and said, “I just thought you’d like to see that.”
Maybe I’m proudest of introducing Rupert to the “American Baseball Peanut,” the formal name I gave to a $6 bag of peanuts in the shell I shared with Rupe at a Washington Nationals game. He raved, and brought it up several times thereafter. In fact, when I was looped into another baseball outing, this time a Padres game, this was his rapidly emailed response…
“YEAH!! JOOOOOOOHNNNNNN. Last time I went to a game with John he introduced me to the most delicious peanuts EVER.”
Of course it was an honor to supply Rupert with another helping of this rare American delicacy.
And more recently…
Did you know…
Did you know that Rupert once met Lady Diana? Rupert was a student and Lady Di visited his dance troupe. What? Rupert was in a dance troupe? Yes, of course he was. Lady Di’s handler prepped the students with some of the social expectations of meeting the princess — chiefly, do not address the princess directly. It turned out that Lady Di singled out young Rupert, of course, and asked him some question or another. Rupert dutifully responded with a, “yes mum.”
Did you know that Rupert was still actively engaged in dance lessons? Yes, of course he was. He shared with the team a video of his group’s hip hop performance, Rupert a rather shadowy occluded figure near the back. Sia was his undisputed favorite performer, the song Chandelier held particular favor. This was another detail that, when I told my children, contributed to their puzzled reluctance to believe that Rupert was an actual person and not a character I’d made up.
Did you know that while Rupert was born and raised in Leicester, he wasn’t terribly moved when his local team, against all odds, won the Premier League. He was happier and more appreciative to know that his congratulators knew his hometown and would quickly change the topic to Leicester’s true claim to fame, pork pies.
Did you know that Rupert, an early employee at Esri, frequently entertained us with apocryphal stories of the invention of the polygon? Feeding off of our hysterics, he would delve into great detail regarding his idea to just, “go ahead and see what happens if we end a line right where we started it.” The first polygon, Rupert told us, lived in a jar on Scott Morehouse’s desk. This impossibly niche humor made me laugh harder than I think I had in some years before or since.
I’ll end with this, I suppose. While making a Rupert-themed set of emoji (with his permission, of course) as honor badges for our team’s Slack channel, I shared them with him for a final sign-off. One of the images was Rupert with a formidable Tom Selleck mustache Photoshopped on.
This was his reply…
“John, would you mind sending me a larger version of this one? I’d like to show it to Christen.”
I’m going to miss Rupert. He was my friend. I’m going to miss working with him, sure. But I’m going to miss sending him bizarre messages and getting his opinion on things. I’m going to miss his spark and embrace of life. I’m going to miss the world that used to have a Rupert in it. But I am glad to have experienced a part of it.
Did you know Rupert?