By Lyle Ekdahl, Senior Vice President, Product Development, Oracle
John and I worked together in Denver for roughly 15 years. John was my right-hand man, a “partner in crime” as we sought to do the right thing for customers, partners, and employees, and someone to have fun with in a corporate environment. That’s how we became friends. Because of John, I see the flowers.
John Schiff was born on December 4, 1947, to a South African mother and a German father. His father had fled Nazi Germany and settled in South Africa, where his mother lived. John was raised in an extended family home with his grandparents. He was wicked smart but not really into the formality of schooling. John struggled getting his degree at the University of Pretoria—not because he couldn’t do the work but because he had so many distracting interests.
John loved travel and making new friends. One of John’s favorite destinations was in the bush on safari with his bag of camera gear in tow. John’s love for African wildlife, especially elephants, shone through in all his photography. Once I asked him if he owned a tie that did not have an elephant on it. He replied, “None that ever saw the light of day.”
On one hand, John was very traditional—he loved classical music, classic Mercedes-Benz automobiles, his church, and his family. But he was a teaser and a jokester with a love for rugby and great wine. John loved to share his passion for wine; even as he became ill, he began construction on a wine cellar in his home. He told me that he wasn’t sure if he would ever have the chance to enjoy the cellar, but it was important to him that wine culture continue in his house with his family.
What I will remember most about John was his deep, fierce, and protective love for his wife Eileen; daughter, Cara Schiff; son, Alex Schiff; brother, Peter; son-in-law, Patrick Mann; daughter-in-law, Madeline Elise Schiff; and beloved granddaughter, Bridget Rose. Family always came first for John.
Professionally John will always be remembered as the “godfather” of JD Edwards. Who knew that his IBM career and contributions to designing the System/38 would also lead him to JD Edwards? John was a mentor to many and a great listener. He could smooth the most difficult of work issues, and he was always considerate and inclusive. John’s knowledge of Oracle products, our customers, and our partners was encyclopedic. After his retirement, not a week went by where I didn't miss his real-time input on some vexing issue.
John was a star with his own user group and partner fan club. And it was not only because John was kind and funny and made everyone feel like they were valuable contributors: It was because he took time to get to know so many of us personally and to touch our lives outside of work. There are so many stories of the flowers that would show up at a sick mother’s bedside or of sharing concern for a friend in need. The best memories about John and his life account for so many friends, so many stories, so many avocations, and so many bottles of wine shared.
John said that it was easy to look at a garden and see all the weeds and the work to be done. But staring at the weeds robs us of the joy and gratitude in our lives. Although he knew his death was inevitable, it didn’t stop him from seeing the flowers.
We have created the fundraising team “Schiff’s Soldiers” in John’s honor and encourage everyone who was touched by John to contribute to this garden of memories. Funds raised will be used for leukemia research and support.
Photography courtesy of the John Schiff family