The family recalls Jos before he came to WebTV

impromptu on August 26, 1999
a transcript of the video

Father Jon

Jos was a very different person before he came to WebTV. We'll tell you about that. First brother Andrew will read some of Jos's college application essays.

Brother Andrew

Stanford? I tried to get in, and did not get in. Jos tried not to get in.... [laughter] So I will read you just a few tidbits from his Stanford application.

He starts in easy on them. "Jot a note to your future roommate that tells something about you." [Andrew reads Jos's answer.]

And so here is another one of those questions they give you. If you could spend a year pursuing any activity, all expenses paid, what would you do? Be specific, and describe why your choice is meaningful to you. .

That was the gist of the his Stanford essays. Here is what Stanford wrote back:

During the application process we asked you to think and write boldly about who your are. You did. [laughter] Clearly, you thought and worked hard to become the person you are. [laughter]
He got in. He sent applications to eight universities, much along those same lines, and he got into all of them.

You all know about his Weekly World News postings in the men's room. He used to write his own tabloids. That was at age 13.

How lucky you were to get him here at WebTV because there were numerous other options, let me tell you.

You wondered what was he going to think of next.
We were always wondering what was he was going to do next.

All through his life he was coming up with one life plan after another. He was going to go to Memphis with his massage table. He was going to reconstruct the South, one massage at a time. I don't think I can remember them all. He wanted to be come a minister at the drive thru chapel in Las Vegas. He just wanted to go and do it; he didn't want training for it. When that fell thru he wanted to become a blackjack dealer.

He had picked out a beautiful apartment over a bar in Eureka, California, and he was convinced the paper mill really needed him there. He could talk anybody into anything, but he could not talk my parents into this. You were lucky to get him here or he would have been there, entertaining them all at the pulp mill.

Brother Martin

I'll read another of his college essays. Do you have a personal philosophy?

I'd like to add a little about his massage table. There was a time in his life when he had left college. He had gone to Alaska. My parents were worried about him a great deal. They told me he has all these cockamamy ideas about taking a massage table all over the US.

I talked to him on the phone. I said, "You don't seem interested in college."

He said, "I'm not really interested. I'm not getting what I should be getting from it." He was really sincere. He wanted more from college than he was getting from just studying.

We were talking about the idea of him going around America giving massages to people. With him the ideas were just coming and going.

At that time he hadn't got his real introduction to the web yet but he had the idea about setting up a massage home page. We knew that if he had a home page, it didn't really matter who we were. If we called it the "Massage Institute of America", who would know? Having that home page set up, he could could contact and visit massage people all over America. We seriously talked about setting that up. Seriously, well, not so seriously.

He was going to ask people to write things up for his home page, and then he would have the opportunity to visit them in their neck of the woods, when he'd travel around.

He didn't do it. He went back to college.

Brother Andrew

Being in a cafeteria reminds me of why he returned to college. In Alaska they didn't really catch many fish, so he didn't have much money, and he was really hungry. He started thinking about the cafeteria at Pomona College, and about the number of meals you could eat each day, and thinking about what you could eat. It convinced to return to school.

On the first essay I read to you, you can see them thinking, "he is really clever and nice." So then Jos had to go in a little harder on them. I'll pass these next essays on to Martin.

Brother Martin

I'll read the essay he wrote for Reed College. Why do you want to go to Reed? and then they asked, if there is some other question you had wished we had asked, please ask it now and answer it here.
[much laughter]

Despite that, Reed was delighted to offer him admission.

Jos certainly left us laughing.

Father Jon

Jos had a number of stages in his life. He really couldn't find himself in college. It didn't really work out very well for him. We grumbled at him later saying that he really should have gone to Stanford. He had picked Pomona College, a really small little place. Then he went to Alaska. And that led to frustration too. After he got hungry enough in Alaska, he went back to Pomona.

Then he had a stint in Washington DC. His mother and I thought, "this is the real Jos, he'll really do his stuff there." We were deeply disappointed that Washington really didn't work out for him either. Some college friends had ideas why it wasn't his fault, but we were still deeply disappointed.

He continued college and he finally did finish up. We were really concerned about him. His friends were getting wonderful jobs in Seattle working for Microsoft. He couldn't land an $8/hour job as web site manager for the county parks.

Jos decided to make a new life in Eureka, California. He went there and arranged to rent an apartment above a tavern. Then he planned to look for a job. At this point, I said,

"I'm not going to sign your lease. So there. If you really have to go there to work, why don't you go up there and live in a campground until you find a job?"
He took it graciously. It slowed him down. Before he could cook up another goofy idea he found his job in Customer Care at WebTV. That led him on a path that was wonderful beyond any of our reasonable expectations. Jos had really found himself.

At WebTV our mixed-up child totally flowered and grew. He really found himself. He was just so happy here. WebTV was the best thing that ever happened to him.


I met Jos the start of our Sophomore year. He was a sponsor for the incoming transfer students, and I sponsored freshman. He didn't have to live with his sponsees, but I had to live with mine.

The first experience I really remember witnessing Jos was a meeting in the lobby of the Mudd-Blaisdail Hall. We were all waiting for the meeting to start. He was hitting on all the short women. That is what he was interested in that month. He was sitting there on the couch and he had one girl on each knee. And I just thought,

I'm too tall. [laughter]

I cannot remember the definitive moments that made us really good friends. He went away to Alaska. I went away. We came back. He found me in a registration line and poured his heart out to me and told me how much he missed me. He asked,

Was I single?

Unfortunately, I was not. Anyway, we were good friends and we had a wonderful year at school that year together.

Another very fond memory I have is that he went to Las Vegas with a bunch of friends. One of them was under age, so they had to go to all the kiddie casinos. They did very well because they came back with a carload of stuffed animals. I came back to my dorm room and there were all these stuffed animals with Circus Circus tags on them. He had named all the animals and gave them each a personality. So when he came to my room, he did a little show for me, explaining each of them.

It is funny to hear about his experience in Alaska and not being able to eat. Pomona really did have a very good cafeteria but it was the same food, day after day. He finished up the year after me the last spring break he called me and said,

I want you to come down from Portland to meet my parents. I'll split your plane ticket.
He started listing all the activities we would do. He filled the days with activities. Most of the things he wanted to do involved eating. Seventeen kinds of food. What was this obsession with food, I wondered? Then I realized he had been eating in the dorm.

He introduced me to pho, which is a Vietnamese beef noodle soup. He brightened up the day of the young man behind the counter at the Pho shop, saying

Hello, fine young man, we'd like two enormous bowls of Pho!"

He really appreciated people who served him food. He made them feel that this was the best thing they could do with their lives, selling him a bowl of soup.

He befriended all of the people who served him food. There was a new food service company that was going to come to campus. There was some upheaval in our dorms about the quality of the food service, and whether or not the existing staff would lose their jobs. He researched what this was all about, and he wrote article or two in the newspaper about it. He must have been one of the few people who really cared about that. Most people don't even know the people they are getting their food from.

I have so many stories, and a lot of them were very complex, and about Pomona. They may not make very much sense to you.

I know it was hard for him to be at Pomona College. He was very flighty in his early years there. After he came back from Alaska, it really settled him in.

I witnessed the most intellectually curious person that I had ever met. He knew more about everything than anyone I had ever met.

He was frustrated by lack of intellectual curiousity and people who jumped to conclusions. The profs who were less good at their jobs, he let them know. He really pursued his work relentlessly.

And he was brilliant, just brilliant. I never met anyone like him.

Mother, Diane

I guess I'd like to finish up at the very beginning. My first introduction to Jos was at the moment of birth. I had a very slight short obstetrician. I was giving birth and I heard him say,
Oh my God, how big were the others?
have I given birth to a 23 pound giant? and I said, "Amy Joanna!" and he said, "No." We had expected a girl despite all evidence to the contrary.

He was practically unweanable. With two older brothers you discover that the only time you are going to get your mother is when you are nursing. He just wouldn't give it up. As a result he was nursed until he was almost four.

It didn't matter what I was wearing. As soon as the phone rang, I'd sit on the chair by the telephone, and he'd jump up. We used to joke, he'll go into the army and they'll have to give him a deferment to nurse.

Even at age 4, everything was a big adventure, the most wonderful thing in the world. He'd jump on his big wheel and go round the block. He'd return and tell me of all the wonderful friends that he'd met. I'd say, "Maybe you'd like to invite them over."

And he'd say, "Well, maybe you'd like to play with them more."

He'd be picking up women in their 60's and 70's and they all adored him. Right from the get go, he just loved women. He had a baby sitter; he wanted her to come for a sleepover. I said, "you can have sleepovers with your friends, but Sally is a little too old for that."

His thrift store habit -- he came by that naturally. When he was young I volunteered in a thrift store run by Family Service Association. We worked together and at noon, Jos would go over to the next door Pizza restaurant and order pizza for us. One of his great joys in life was to go over there and order pizza and bring it back.

In all, he was just a rare delight. Not to his all his teachers though. He had a wonderful teacher in England but then he came back to Palo Alto and the teachers were rather elderly and not used to his sense of humor. I was always going to back-to-school night, and the teachers were always telling me how sorry they felt for me.

These last two years at WebTV. These were the most wonderful two years he had in his entire life. He was SO HAPPY HERE. He was always bubbling over.

He called us the last week of his life. He called us early in the week. How he had scored this great coupe getting two cubicles. He was so thrilled about that.

Please don't lose touch with us. It is very important to us.

Thank you for everything you have done in the last week which has been hard on you as it has on us.


I had planned to share the story of Jos knitting a toessel for his grandmother, but Mother's stories seem a fitting place to stop.

If anyone can remember any more experiences, please send them to us -- claerbout @ stanford . edu. It is never too late.


Thank you for sharing. There are some pictures around. Collages. We also have a poster we'd like you all to sign and give to the parents.

Mark A r m s t r o n g

We met a couple days ago and talked about the kinds of things we'd like to do. One was an idea that we had to run up the management flagpole which we did, and I'm happy to say that it was approved. They have created a new award at WebTV (tears) which, which, which is called the Jos Claerbout award for creativity, (more tears) or "The Jos". We are going to give it each year on June 14th, his birthday.


Another way to say the words we would like to say to Jos is that you can write a note to Jos and attach it to a helium balloon and we will release them. So everybody please write a note.

[People write notes to Jos; attach them to helium balloons; go outside to release them; and watch them gradually disappear.]

return to the Life of Jos