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Personal Recollections of Charles F. McConathy

Oct 2004

Personal Recollections of Charles F. McConathy


In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that friends honor
Charles's memory through the American Cancer Society. Gifts can be made

1-800-277-2345 or
In Care Of
16 Technology Dr. #106
Irvine, CA 92618

by Michael Horton

How come you haven't retired," I asked Charles McConathy on more than one occasion.
"Because I love what I do," he replied in a high pitch raspy voice with a hint of Texas twang. "I really love talking about technology and I love figuring out how to make it better. And I worry about my employees and family. I have a responsibility to them. Big payroll."

In May of 03 I sent Charles McConathy an email asking him if he'd be coming to the May lafcpug meeting. To be honest it was one of those e-mails sent under the pretext just to say hello. I hadn't heard from him in a couple weeks and that wasn't the normal course of events between me and Charles. Maybe he was mad at me for something. Anyway he wrote back saying that he wouldn't be there because he was under Doctors orders to take it easy. "Doctors orders? What's wrong? You sick?"
"Well yes, I have been diagnosed with colon cancer. I have been taking radiation and chemo - about half way through the treatment series. Will probably have an operation in July to remove the tumor. Haven't really told anybody yet."
What?! When the hell did this happen? Chemo?! You haven't told anybody yet? Cancer?!

It took a few minutes to catch my breath and collect my thoughts. Colon Cancer - that's no big deal if caught early, I muttered to myself. Besides, this is Charles. If anybody can beat this, it's Charles. And so I wrote back; "Wow Charles. I don't know what to say, except for crying out loud, DON'T BE AFRAID OF TELLING PEOPLE! It's an Irish curse to keep it to yourself. People want to help and will help, and if anything it takes a lot of the stress off of you! Plus they'll throw you lots of parties when you beat this."

He never did tell very many people. So I did it for him - a couple months later.

I sent out a notice in the lafcpug newsletter that Charles was going in for surgery and that it might be nice for every one who knew him to send best wishes. Charles was a bit scared, not about the outcome of the surgery mind you, just the fact that he'd never been in a hospital before. That alone is enough to scare hell out of anyone.

Hundreds of people from all over the world responded with best wishes and Charles was near tears when he called me the next day. "I never knew so many people cared," he wrote.

He went into surgery August 1, 2003 a much stronger and determined man as a result of those letters, and came out of that surgery a much, much different man than before.

I first saw Charles in April of 1999 at Apple in Santa Monica. He was demoing this new NLE called Final Cut Pro. He struck me as a kindly old gentleman although in later months I'd often hear the term "SOB" used to describe him. I didn't have the courage to come up and meet him then. I had just sat through 45 minutes of NLE speak and hadn't a clue what was said. I just knew that I was sold.

At the first lafcpug meeting in June of 2000, Charles sent one of his employees, Cawan Starks, to "check us out." Cawan brought ProMax T-shirts and copies of Lisa Brenneis's new book, 'Final Cut Pro Visual QuickPro Guide' for our raffle. Cawan later that night offered the services of ProMax to lafcpug. "Charles says, anything you want"

lafcpug found a home at the DR Group (Dr Rawstock) in Hollywood and Charles would often come and demo new products along with Cawan. He'd stay the entire show answering the dozens of hardware questions everyone had, this despite the long drive home to Orange County that awaited him. He really loved hanging out with the creative people that showed up at the meetings. Damn, he had a lot of energy. And he'd always bring raffle prizes.

In March 2001 lafcpug had out grown the space at Dr Rawstock and I was frantically looking for a larger venue to hold the meetings. FCP 2 was set to launch and I figured now was the time to make the move. I had gotten to know Charles about as well as anyone could get to know him and enjoyed his company and frequent e-mails. I also had grown dependent on his counsel. I didn't know what the hell I was doing with this User Group, nor what to do with it in the future. I wasn't a businessman, yet I knew instinctively that this group had to be run like a business if it was to survive. So I asked lots of questions. LOTS of questions. He found time to answer every one of them.

"Can you be a nice guy and build a successful business?" I asked Charles at a bar in San Francisco during a MacWorld.
"I don't know," he replied with a hint of a smirk. "I'm not a nice guy sometimes. I don't have a lot of patience for stupidity. I don't have a lot of patience, period. I guess what I do have - is I love what I do. If you love what you do, you just seem to do the right thing. Most of the time, anyway. I'm also a pretty lucky man"

I found this great theater in Hollywood called the LA Film School for the FCP 2 roll out. Only trouble was it was expensive. I called Charles and described the place to him. I always called Charles when I was about to make a big decision. He'd never heard of the place.
"How much is it," he asked.
"Expensive, I answered. "I figure I charge $5.00 a head and that ought to take care of it."
"ProMax will pick up the tab," responded Charles, matter of factly.
He had that 'don't argue with me' tone in his voice and so I didn't argue. I learned that awhile back.

That was the beginning of ProMax sponsoring the lafcpug meetings and just about everything lafcpug was involved in. And never once did he attach any provisions to the sponsorship. Not once. He never told me how to run the group, never told me who to put on the agenda, and only gave advice when I asked for it. This was one sweet deal. I was the envy of just about every FCP User Group in the world. While they were all running around from month to month trying to secure a permanent venue, lafcpug had a home in the heart of Hollywood and it was paid for. Man, did I feel special. I later found out that Charles did this all the time. He was sponsoring Chris and Trish Meyer's group, MGLA over at AFI. He sponsored the IMUG events at NAB. He probably sponsored countless other events and groups I never heard of. While it still made me feel special that he'd put so much trust in me, it was a simple business decision to Charles. It just made sense to him.

Charles asked me to MC the ProMax Digital Cafe at the 2001 NAB. It was my first NAB and as I'd never heard of the Digital Cafe, I figured it was just some geek-fest where a hundred hung over computer nerds show up and gawk at new software. Boy, was I wrong. The room at the Stardust sat 600 and it was SRO by the time the show started. The agenda read like a 'who's who' of the Digital Video Industry. People started to arrive 2 hours before the show started.
"This the way it always is at this thing," I nervously asked Charles.
"Yes, pretty much" he replied, shaking the 300th hand of another customer. "Attendance seems a bit low this year though."

Charles saw I was a bit nervous so he brought me around the room and introduced me to some friends and to those I was about to introduce. Many of these were people I had only read about. I felt like a son being dragged around by his proud father. Finally, just before the show was to start, he whispered in my ear the only piece of advice he'd give me for the night;
"Give them a five minute warning, and if they are boring give them a five minute warning BEFORE the five minute warning."
I got good at that.

Over the next few years Charles and I became closer. We'd use each other to bitch and moan about all the "stupid" things and "stupid" people we'd encounter. I'd toss meeting ideas off him, and if I needed to contact someone, Charles ALWAYS knew where they were. I'd beg for raffle prizes and he'd always say yes. I'd beg for sponsorship money for the National shows and he always said yes. He'd ask me about my family and I'd ask him about his. He'd worry if I was making any money and I'd worry if HE was making any money.

I'd got to know a bit about his past but he never spoke that much about it. I didn't know he founded MicroNet, the HUGE data storage company. Even I had heard of that place. I didn't know that he was the fellow who pretty much pioneered the Fast/Wide SCSI storage systems used in early Media 100 and Adobe Premiere editing systems. Hell, I didn't know he pretty much pioneered the Desktop Video Industry.

About a week after Charles was released from the hospital in Aug 03, I got an email asking if I was going to do anything special for the DVD Studio Pro 2 roll out. I told him Brian Schmidt and Brian Meaney were coming down, and for crying out loud, forget work and tell me how are you feeling? He wrote back;
"I am at home doing as well as one can expect - better than most from what my doctor told me. The surgery went well. Boy will I be one thankful guy to get out of bed and resume work as a normal person. I thank God for your support and the many many friends that have written me. It has meant a lot. I have lot to be thankful."

It was the first of many e-mails I'd receive from Charles that spoke about his relationship with God. His faith would play a very large roll in the coming months.

This past April 2004, I once again hosted the Digital Cafe at NAB. Once again it was packed with an overflow crowd and once again Charles was there, tearing raffle tickets, handing out ProMax DVDs, shaking hands, giving and receiving hugs, talking shop, and just thoroughly enjoying himself. He had lost a lot of weight. There was a lot of shocked whispering going on in that room that night. But Charles would put everyone at ease with an often repeated line; "I'm on the Chemo diet. It works"

As was tradition at the Cafe, Charles would get up and welcome everyone and hand over the mic to the MC (unless he hosted himself) and sit and watch the show. Sensing the crowd needed a bit of show-biz pizzaz, and also sensing their unease, I got up and introduced Charles myself, saying something silly along the lines of "Ladies and Gentleman, please welcome the CEO of ProMax, the LEGENDARY Charles F McConathy. Almost at once and certainly spontaneously, the crowd leapt to their feet and for what seemed like several minutes, gave Charles a standing ovation.
"See, I told ya why it's good to tell people" I shouted to Charles as he slowly walked to the podium.

He was in tears by now as were many in the audience. Charles struggled mightily to get words of thanks out of his mouth. Honestly, you could hear a pin drop in that cavernous room.

This was one of those defining moments in a mans life, where everything that really matters is laid before you in one place at one time. Family and friends and associates all were there that night to not only say thank you, but to say that you meant something to me. 20 minutes later Charles and I were sitting together giggling, discussing the 5 minute warning rule. I just wished everyone knew what I knew. That Charles was going to beat this thing and they'd have to do this all over again next year.

The middle of July, 2004 found Charles back in the hospital for another surgery. This time however, he told everyone. He wrote that he no longer feared surgery for he had "placed himself in God's hands." He'd done that long ago.

In Early September 2004 lafcpug found out it was losing the LA Film School, its home for the past three years. Chris Meyer of MGLA and myself had found what we felt was the ideal new meeting place. Only problem was, it lacked the equipment necessary to have the meetings. So... I wrote Charles and told him about the place and told him our dilemma. He forwarded the e-mail to ProMax COO Dan Hatch with the brief note; "Dan - lets see what we can do to help. Call Mike and see what is needed." ProMax gave us all the help we needed of course. It was the last time Charles and I did any business together.

Dan Hatch called me on Saturday, Oct 23 to tell me that Charles had passed away. It was not entirely unexpected as Dan kept me posted over the last several weeks, but I kept hoping that call would be later rather than sooner. I just couldn't picture this man gone. Still can't.

Charles leaves behind Nubia his wife, 5 children, 11 grandchildren, a great grandchild, a successful business with a name that is synonymous with Digital Video Editing, and hundreds of friends.

That's my idea of a wonderful legacy and a wonderful life no matter how long or short one lives. I mean, can any of us hope for any more?

Bless you Charles. Say hello to Ralph for me, will you?

copyright©Michael Horton2004

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