I’d be willing to bet you never heard of Ted Hyman. After all, he wasn’t anybody famous or powerful. Just a computer tinkerer down in Richmond, living with his family in a humble South Side cottage. But, in all my travels and adventures, I have never met a better human being than that man.
Like most kids who grew up chaotically in the divorce-happy ‘80s, I was constantly on a subconscious search for stable parental figures. So when Ted’s son and I became close friends in high school, and I started hanging out at their house, it took exactly a nanosecond for me to start looking up to the old man.
His home office was full of computers in various states of assembly, expansion cards piled on the shelves, random widgets and wires spread out like a nerd smörgåsbord. I would look for excuses to be in the room, just to stare at everything, trying to work out what the unfamiliar pieces did.
Perhaps recognizing a fellow computer gearhead, Ted would sometimes give me parts—a sound card here, a spare modem there—which I would attempt to utilize (to varying degrees of success). And whenever I ran up against a hardware problem I couldn’t solve, Ted served as a reliable backstop, resurrecting a machine I had considered a lost cause on more than one occasion.
But I always felt that I had lost some sort of game whenever that happened, like Ted was trying to teach me to swim and I had just called out for my floaties. He would get this smirk under his epic mustache (hipsters would kill each other in the street for Ted’s mustache, I’m quite sure of it), and chuckle as he explained the problem in his melodic South Virginia accent.
I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but the lessons I learned on those occasions went a good bit deeper than this or that computer conundrum. After all, Ted knew better than anyone how quickly a particular generation of computer gear—and the solutions that go with it—becomes obsolete. He wasn’t really teaching me how to resolve hardware conflicts or match a motherboard with the correct power supply.
He was giving me the keys to my own freedom.
What Ted knew, and what he taught by example—preaching was never his thing—was that our minds are the most valuable possession we have. Our ability to look at problems and make connections, find solutions, to invent and innovate. He knew from his own experience that cultivating that ability could make the difference between a life lived on one’s own terms and a life crushed under the weight of miserable jobs and unfulfilled potential. Ted was a free man, and he was doing the work of freeing others, quietly and humbly.
Over the years, that work has manifested in my life on more than one occasion. Whether it was directly feeding myself with my computer skills, or simply knowing better than to waste my time in job situations that weren’t going anywhere, I knew from Ted’s example that you don’t have to live life on anybody’s terms but your own. That happiness comes not from wealth or big houses, but from keeping your family close and maintaining control over your own destiny.
I never got to tell Ted how I grateful I’ve always been to him for taking an interest in my development as a person, or how much his example meant to me. But I was fortunate enough to join his family for his wake a couple of weeks ago, and spend some time in reflection on this person who touched so many lives without even trying. We sat around drinking cheap beer and trading Ted stories well into the night
That morning a storm rolled in, and I found myself standing out in the downpour while everyone slept. The realization of loss hit me and the tears started flowing, mixing with the heavy midsummer raindrops. At that moment, I would have given anything just to have a few more minutes, to ask one more dumb question, to see that smirk one more time.
We never really know the impact we have on those around us, and I’m sure Ted wasn’t looking for recognition or gratitude all those years ago. He was just helping to grow whatever spark he saw in me. And perhaps that’s his greatest example of all. Our actions, our attitudes, and the way we treat those we interact with become our most enduring legacy, extending farther than we could ever hope to perceive in this life.
Ted Hyman wasn’t a famous man. Just a computer tinkerer and one of the best human beings I ever met. I will miss him dearly.