A hundred years from now, when raconteurs are weaving tales about the settling of the electronic frontier, Tom Mandel's name will be famous.

Tom Mandel was the pointman for the new millennium. Soldier, visionary, electronic circuit preacher, one of the first professionally trained futurists, he brought academic principles and credibility to a sometimes fuzzy field with his use of "scenario-planning". In his twenty year affiliation with the Stanford Research Institute -- SRI -- he pioneered the field of online communications, both through his involvement with the WELL, a Sausalito-based virtual community and his later association with Time Inc where he helped to create TIME Magazine Online at America Online, a relationship which earned him mention as one of the 100 Most Influential Individuals in Computing according to the Silicon Valley based MicroTimes.

Tom's special talent was that he could talk to anyone -- executives from Harvard business school, phone engineers, consultants, hackers on Internet chat, surfers, bartenders and barflies, scientific authors, and priests, and make them all feel like he was on their wavelength, and a man to be reckoned with. This fluency in other-people-ese was his greatest gift online.

He was born in Chicago but his heart belonged to Hawaii where he was reared and where he learned to surf. He was very proud of being one of the first Americans to ride the waves in Viet Nam. After his Marine Corps service, Tom returned to Hawaii where he designed the program in futuristics at the University of Hawaii from which he received his B.A., the first of its kind.

At SRI his specialty was technology assessment, particularly as that technology applied to social and consumer trends. Among the shifts in the way that we live -- or might live -- which captured Tom's attention early on were the emerging telecommunications services for businesses and consumers. The Net was a neonate in those days, still more science fiction than fact. Tom Mandel's genius was in recognizing that computer networks were not so much machines talking to machines as they were people talking to people.

And never in a decade online did he speak more poignantly to the human beings around him than in the few months before his death. In various topics both in TIME Online and on the WELL he chronicled his illness, his fears, his hopes, and his growing realization that friendships and love are all that really matter when all is said and done.

Thomas F. Mandel died of lung cancer on April 6, 1995. He was listening to the Fourth Movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, his beloved wife Maria was at his side.

His friends miss him.

Links to other Mandel tributes:

from William Calvin

from Andrew Leonard

from the San Francisco Chronicle : Tom's Obituary

mini-tom Slideshow

[Back to the Future]