Saturday, December 14, 2013

Eulogy for Koz

I wrote this in 2001, in the week before my husband's memorial service. I gave it to my pastor, #Ron Foster, to use in preparing the eulogy that he gave in church, complete with a video clip from Ferris Bueller's Day off. Sam and I attended the service with our Siberian husky, Voi. Probably not the most dignified memorial service ever, what with kids running around, a dog sitting quietly in front of one pew, and my singing along with Twist and Shout. But maybe Koz would have wanted it that way. Besides, I didn't actually have much control at the time. It felt like an out-of-body experience.

Michael Thomas Kozlowski
Apr. 10, 1953 - Dec. 31, 2000
We come here today to mourn the untimely loss of a dear friend, husband, father, brother, relative, and fellow geek. But more importantly, we come to celebrate a life lived to the fullest by a just and loving man. 

Who was  Koz? 

Koz called himself the Big Bear. He was not a ferocious bear—just a giant Teddy bear. He had a generous, childlike spirit, a curious mind, a loving heart, a winning sense of humor, but above all, a vast zest for life.

Koz could be compared to two movie characters. He was in many ways a grown-up version of Ferris Bueller, and a male, geek version of Babbette from the film “Babbette’s Feast.”

Like Ferris Bueller, Koz was a bit of a prankster, but his little tricks were always meant to help and delight his friends and family. This year he hid rolls of pennies in a package of sox for Sam at Christmas. After Celia complained repeatedly about his pulling the sheets out from the bottom of the bed at night, he pulled every summer camper’s favorite prank -- he short-sheeted Celia’s side of the bed.

Like Ferris Bueller, Koz was charismatic, lucky, and lovable—he made you want to join his parade and dance and sing to Danke Shoen or Twist and Shout. And like Ferris Bueller, Koz believed there was no problem that couldn’t be tackled with a creative technological fix—a new gizmo, a program, some software, a re-wiring. When his beloved Westfalia van was in peril of failing inspection because the
Koz's Westphalia van with Dave, above,
and Sam playing computer games on a
trip to Maine

defroster didn’t work, Celia jokingly suggested installing a hair drier in it. An hour and a half later, the fan and heater had been removed from a spare hair drier, the electricity converted from AC to DC, the unit inserted into the van’s air system and connected to the fan switch. The soft hum and small amount of air the jerry-rigged thing produced were just enough to get the van through inspection.

When Celia proved unable to remember to close the cupboard doors, he installed light-sensing crickets that chirped until the doors were shut. But surely what Koz most shared with Ferris was his pure enjoyment of life.

Babbett in the 1987 film “Babbette’s Feast” was a cook in a sad, aging Danish village. When she wins 10,000 francs in the lottery, she spends the entire sum on an astonishingly sumptuous feast that she lovingly prepares for her conservative employers and their spartan Lutheran neighbors. 

Like Babbette, Koz loved good food and cooking. He saw his role in life not as the center of attention, not as the boss, but as the one who prepared the feast that brought people together, gave them joy, and catalyzed priceless interactions among them. He made a creative, loving environment for friends and family; whether through his food,
Koz in the Kitchen, many
years before I met him
his love, his nurturing, or his technical know-how, Koz laid the feast that brought people together to work, laugh, grow, and enjoy life.

Early years—The making of a geek

Born on April 10, 1953, Koz grew up in Hammond, Indiana.  As soon as he could count change, he worked the cash register for candy sales in his parents’ grocery store. He had fond memories of early-morning weekend trips into Chicago’s Maxwell Street market with his Dad and brother, followed by visits to the Museum of Science and Industry. Later, when his parents, Lucille and Casimer, bought an A&W Root Beer stand, Koz worked every job, from making the root beer to dealing with difficult employees. Money from his work at the drive-in allowed Koz and his brother John the luxury of buying a van, which expanded their boundaries as well as their appeal and opportunities with young ladies…

Koz’s childhood pastimes included riding his bike, building things with his Erector set, experiments, and astronomy, He loved playing with model trains and learned about electricity by building electrical devices and sticking his fingers in a few live circuits. His love of these activities was cultivated and encouraged by his Dad’s tinkering and by his Uncle Frank Wegrzyn. At Hammond High School these interests channeled into working as a stage crewmember and participation in a Boy Scout program that gave him early programming experience on the main frames at Standard Oil. Tragedy struck the family in 1971 when Koz’s Dad Casimer died at age 53.

Koz attended Illinois Institute of Technology, but his fondest memories of the place had little to do with academics. Working with some fellow geeks,  Koz was able to find a way  of hooking into the transmitter for the campus radio station. For a number of weeks, he and his friends pre-recorded the “IIT Underground”—a program of music and irreverence that went on the air after the regular station’s midnight sign-off. The pranksters were careful to make their pre-recorded broadcast sound “live” and made themselves conspicuous in public when the show was airing. The show earned a circle of late-night devotees and Koz and his friends were never caught.  Ultimately “IIT Underground” was blown off the air by the demands of studies and exams.


Shortly after leaving IIT, Koz began his first job in the computer world as a Computer Operator with Computer Science Corporation’s Infonet Operations. His connections to Infonet would continue until the day he died. He advanced at Infonet to Senior Tape Librarian, Customer Systems Representative, and then Manager for Technical Training. Koz particularly enjoyed this teaching job, as well as his next Infonet position as an International Support Manager. This position included extensive travel to the Far East and Europe.
Koz as a teacher & author of
Koz's Hitchiker's Guide to CSVS

In 1986, somewhere in the lost years of computer science that lay between the pre-eminence of mainframe computing and the dawning of the internet, Koz was laid off at Infonet. Not one to waste time worrying about his unemployment, Koz sat down with a map and asked himself where in the world he would really like to work. His finger landed on Washington D.C. and the just-stirring Dulles high-tech corridor. He bought himself two plane tickets, two weeks apart and flew to this area to find a job.

The position he took was with NetExpress Communications. After lining up the job and a house, he flew back to his home in Manhattan Beach, Calif., packed his things and flew back here, as planned, to meet the moving van and settle into a large, peaceful house in a woods in Herndon, Va.

Koz worked just over a year for NetExpress, then spent a year as an independent consultant,,  doing database work and technical training for contractors to the U.S. Army and Department of Justice. By 1988 he was back at Infonet, although by now Infonet was no longer a part of Computer Sciences Corporation.  Koz worked six years at Infonet during this stint as an EDI Services Support Manager.

EDI is a data format that companies use to communicate with each other, and it was in this work that Koz met Mark North, a client with big dreams of creating a standard EDI and a company that would link up the far-flung parts of the container shipping industry—from giant steamship lines and rail-links to the tiniest container  depots around the world. Koz joined North’s new business, called Cedex Services International, in September, 1994 as Manager of Technical Operations.

CSI, with  headquarters in San Francisco, remained a small, close-knit  company devoted to its niche clientel. For a while, Koz closed up his Virginia house and tried living out in the San Francisco area, but decided it wasn’t for him, although he loved to visit the area. He moved back to Virginia and became an early “telecommuter” with frequent flights back to San Francisco.

In the fall of 1999, Koz helped Mark North sell CSI to Sterling Commerce Inc., a large computer services company based in Dublin, Ohio, just outside of Columbus.  Six months later Sterling itself was bought, by the giant SBC Communications, a conglomerate that grew up from Southwestern Bell. [Update: SBC became AT&T when they acquired that company in 2005. In 2010 AT&T Sold Sterling Communications to IBM. So, were Koz alive today, he might well be working for Big Blue.

Some of the key computers that handle the business communications Koz oversaw are still located at Infonet’s operations center  in El Segundo, Calif., and he continued to fly out there periodically to maintain and oversee his beloved Vaxes.

Koz as a Husband

Koz was a beloved husband. He married Sharla Cerra in 1987 and was embraced by Sharla’s large family, the Sitzmans. Koz and Sharla hosted a series of foreign exchange students in their home, with Koz serving as cook and tourguide. Sharla also brought her son Chris into Koz’s life. Although Sharla and  Koz would eventually get divorced, Koz always considered Chris to be his son. The two greeted each other with whole-body bearhugs last November when Koz attended a national awards ceremony where Chris was honored as the top political cartoonist for college daily newspapers. Koz  was enormously proud of Chris.

Late in  1998,  Koz answered an internet ad and met Celia. On their first date he wowed her by folding a spider out of a straw wrapper. The spider came to life when you sprinkled a drop of water on it and Celia knew this was one special guy. On April 11, 1999, he proposed, and on  June 5, many of you were right here for their wedding—perhaps the only Pokemon wedding ever.

As short as it was, Celia and Koz’s marriage was happy. Koz was only half-joking when he gave Celia the modest nickname “Chomolungma.” This is the Tibetan name for Mt. Everest and means “Goddess Mother of the World.” Whenever an e-mail from Koz arrived on Celia’s computer at work, Koz’s booming dramatic voice proclaimed, “Chomolungma, Goddess Mother of the World, I LOVE you!”
Celia and Koz clowning at Alcatraz

Beyond all his great sensitive new-age guy traits, like respectfulness, willingness to share the chores, commitment, devotion, and ability to express his love, Koz enriched Celia’s life with his infectious happiness. He was her rock and embraced the concept that love is not just the warm fuzzy feeling you get around someone you adore. Koz lived the idea that love is choosing to give of yourself to help another person grow.

Koz as a Dad

Koz was never a biological father, but he was a terrific Dad. This was especially important for Sam, the son he adopted last year, and for Chris. Koz was a natural at being a father—playful, funny, and dedicated to finding creative ways to help his kids learn, overcome problems, grow, and have fun.
Koz emerges from a leaf pile with Sam

Koz at a Renaissance Fayre with Sam,
Celia & Sarah & Adam, bottom right
Koz truly enjoyed being a Dad and his joyful parenting spilled over abundantly to any and all the kids around him—nieces and nephews and cousins and in-laws; to his neighbors Adam and Sarah; to the exchange students he hosted over the years; and most recently to Sam’s buddies, including Will, Daniel,  Samuel, and Alec.


Koz’s spirituality couldn’t be measured by his time spent in church, although he put in many hours as an altar boy in St. Kasimer’s Catholic church as he was growing up in Hammond, Indiana. But if the soul is the source of truth, honesty, courage, and vision, it is certain Koz had a deep well of spirit.

Koz’s God was not confined to traditional images and concepts. He found God in the stars—the mysteries and beauty of the universe; the elegance of mathematics and physics; in the love of friends and family. On Sunday mornings he cultivated his spirituality through walks with his beloved Siberian Husky, Voi, along the C&O canal, the Potomac River, or the parks in Virginia and Maryland.

Koz’s spiritual journey reflected his off-beat, curious take on life. He was always ready to entertain a new idea. A few weeks ago he was reading Scientific American in bed and came up with a new hypothesis, which he realized would be profoundly heretical to people with more traditional beliefs.

 What if, Koz speculated, Jesus was an early inter-galactic traveler sent to earth to elevate the understanding of then-primitive humans? The trinity, he suggested, might actually have been a way of trying to explain the three fundamental forces of nature—gravity, electromagnetic forces, and sub-atomic forces. Perhaps to make the alien visitor more acceptable to the humans, he was given human form through immaculate conception and birth. His many wise teachings sprang from the innate knowledge programmed into him by a more advanced civilization. As Koz spun out the analogy, he wound up at the conclusion that that Jesus’ crucifixion suggested that this intergalactic mission had gone very wrong and he was called home—somewhere in the heavens.

Passions and Dreams

In addition to his love of cooking, eating, and creating technology, Koz loved music—especially Wagnerian operas and Mahler. He loved travel and exploring new places;  he loved dogs, especially his big dog, Wotan. Koz was a football fan (Chicago Bears, naturally), and loved classic films. He was practically a life-long subscriber to Scientific American and Sky and Telescope. He loved science, especially physics and astronomy. He loved wood-working and building; long walks, gardening and beer-making. Two years ago he enjoyed playing a bit part (Sir Edward Ramsey) in a local theatre production of “The King and I.”

Koz died in the midst of many dreams and plans, large and small. A succinct summary of the big plans streamed across one of his computers as a screen-saver: Love Family (dot, dot, dot), Plan Renovation (dot, dot, dot), Travel (dot, dot, dot), Learn piano (dot, dot, dot), Continue education (dot, dot, dot). 

Koz was in the midst of building a system for launching backyard bottle rockets, made from soda bottles and fueled by air pressure and water. He was digging the foundation for a solar shed where he and Celia would start the seeds for next year’s garden. They were discussing plans for meeting with an architect and enlarging their house. Koz wanted a big kitchen where he could carry out his culinary dreams… and a great hearth, dining, and family room where he could again host a lively circle of friends, family, and kids.

Koz wanted to show the world to Sam. High atop Koz’s shoulders, Sammy had already seen San Francisco, Chicago, Greenfield Village in Michigan, and Pittsburgh—where they took in science museums and baseball. In November, as he’d done every year for a long time, Koz took the family up to Norwood for Thanksgiving with his brother John, sister-in-law Lynne,  niece Sarah, and nephew Matthew.
Koz with Sam and Voi

Koz, Celia, and Sam enjoyed venturing a few hours west, beyond the light pollution of the night skies to look at stars with Koz’s big Dobsonian telescope. They loved visiting the animal farm of Mike and Sue, and twice camped out at the western Maryland farm of Sam’s friend Sam Lichtman. They were hoping to buy a beautiful spot out in the countryside where Celia could set up a microscope to look at algae, and Sam and Koz could set up an observatory to look at the stars.

Koz also had dreams of learning to play the grand piano he had bought in Chicago in  the 1970s, then moved to California, Virginia, and now Maryland. He also wanted to continue his education. He took some courses at Northern Virginia, but was looking forward to more classes. His wild and crazy dream for retirement was to become a high school science teacher when he left the computer world.

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