SAN MATEO (06/12/2000) - Tom Quinlan, one of the most respected journalists covering the high-technology industry during the last 16 years, seven of which he spent at InfoWorld, died of natural causes last week at 44 years old.
Best known in Silicon Valley for his award-winning coverage of the semiconductor chip industry, Tom won legions of admirers from across the industry for his dogged determination and dedication to drag tough, complex stories out of the dark and into the light of Page One.
As Ernest Hemingway once said, you can't be a good writer unless you are a good reader, and Tom was an avid reader. Not just of all things technical, but of nontechnical subjects ranging from fiction, music, and art to philosophy and politics.
His respect for and ability to handle the language was reflected in even straightforward news and analysis stories. But it was never art for art's sake; he always remembered that his most important job was not just informing readers, but enlightening them as well.
What made Tom's stories so authoritative was his long list of trusted sources who, in turn, trusted him to represent stories accurately and fairly. And, because he was so well-versed in the issues from extensive reading on any given technical topic, he demonstrated time and again his knack for asking just the right question at exactly the right time.
And Tom wasn't timid about showing that ability at a public press conference, often challenging a top executive with pointed questions that many reporters might stay clear of. But he would not stop with just the first question. He would relentlessly ask follow-up questions to the point of making an executive almost physically uncomfortable, until he or she finally gave the answer Quinlan was after.
Because it was simply a basic part of his nature to be a contrarian, he could drive you to distraction with a stubborn stance. You might not agree with him after an extended, heated debate, but if you were willing to listen and hear him out, you almost always learned something new.
Whether you agreed or disagreed with him, Tom was a consummate team player. His willingness to help educate younger staff reporters after hours won him lasting respect from colleagues, who saw him not merely as a mentor but as a loyal friend.
Most reporters at InfoWorld would tell you that if they had their choice of co-bylining a story with anyone on staff, they would pick Tom. His generosity in sharing sources, making those extra half-dozen calls to confirm a story, and offering moral support in the middle of reporting a story that looked to be impossible to drag over the goal line, was simply remarkable.
Although he often sported an unruly mop of hair, an untucked shirttail, and a shirt with a variety of coffee stains, Tom Quinlan was above all else a gentleman in the true -- and these days, old-fashioned -- definition of the word. While at times he could be a gruff, curmudgeonly bear of a man, he was also as kind and considerate as your brother or best friend.
There was a parlor game Tom would engage in with a certain colleague from time to time in which God came down and asked the world which five people it wanted back who would make the world a better place to live, and which five people it wanted taken away, also making the world a better place to live.
If you played that game with people at InfoWorld this week, sadly, Tom Quinlan is a name on that list of the five people they would want back.