I  happened to be having coffee today with an old friend today, someone who’d worked with me back at Apple. I got the news on Steve as I left the parking lot just after we’d broken up the party.

I’ve been pondering Steve and his impact on my life since. My direct interactions with him were quite limited; I almost ran over him once outside of Infinite Loop 1 as I was coming in for a meeting and he popped into the street without really looking, Jon Rubenstein and Eddy Cue in tow. He almost returned the favor once as he drove in to work as I was in the same crosswalk headed to yet another meeting on the loop. I spent a number of afternoons in his board room on the fourth floor in customer and vendor meetings, especially when open source companies like Zend were part of the discussion, because early on, I was one of the noisy ones about those technologies. He was never at those meetings, but his presence was.

I remember standing in IL1 one day when Fred Forsyth popped out of the stairwell and hurried out onto the street, and I realized he was using the stairs to avoid ending up in an elevator with Steve. He wasn’t alone. Steve could be — was — tried to be at times — a very intimidating person. His saving grace was that he held himself to the same standards he expected of others. Too few leaders do that.

Mostly, I’ve been sitting back and realizing just want an impact the man has had on my life. not JUST my years at Apple, but all across my life. The Apple II was the first computer I used instead of peeked. I bought an early Mac — a 512K — and later put a massive ten gig hard drive on it via the floppy port, and upgrading it to a huge 2 megabytes of RAM. I never thought I’d fill that drive up.

I did, of course, and many drives since. I’ve spent some time tonight trying to think about how many Macs I’ve owned over the years, and in all honesty, I can’t. My time at Apple spanned the Mac II to the Mac Pro, an just stop for a second to think about how much these computers changed and how much power they gained in that time — and despite that and all of the enhancements added to the system over that time, someone familiar with a Mac Pro would find a Mac II usable, and vice versa. they’re both recognizably Macs.

One of the things that drove me in the last years at Apple was that I was in a situation where I could create things that allowed a company that was reshaping society the ability to do so; how often do you have the opportunity to “move the needle” in a meaningful way?

Steve moved that needle almost routinely. His “one more thing” became a cliche; underneath  that cliche those one more things have transformed the world we live in.

I am who I am today in large part because of Steve. Not directly, but through the companies he founded and the products he built and the technologies he fostered; even more importantly, because of the people he brought in and mentored who turned into people that mentored me. Because of the thinking and attitudes he promoted and inoculated that became part of what I’ve become.

What makes me melancholy today is that this is clearly the end of an era. Pundits will now start proclaiming this the end of apple, of course, because that’s what pundits do. Eventually they’ll be right, too, because nothing lasts forever. But while there is nobody at Apple who can be Steve, the most important thing he did at Apple was build a team of people who each understand what is needed so that collectively they can carry on what Steve did. None of them alone is Steve; collectively, they have been taught to understand the how and why of Steve, and so I think Apple is going to be fine.

What makes me happy today is something even more important — that Steve chose to walk away on his terms, with his shield and not on it. He’s smart enough to pull back before life does it for him.

Here’s hoping he continue to enjoy his life on his terms without the pressures of trying to run a company like Apple, and be a person like Steve in that goldfish bowl he’s lived in. Now is his opportunity to just be Steve, be with his family and friends, and enjoy life on his terms. I do hope we as a society gives him that opportunity and doesn’t try to peek and peer more than he wishes us to.

So thanks, Steve. I’m the person I am because of you, what you did, the opportunities you created, and the attitudes and expectations you baked into those around you.

When I left Apple, I had a stack of pictures of mine printed, and I wrote up thank you notes to a bunch of people who’d been influences in my time there. the first one I did and delivered was to Steve. No idea if he got it or kept it; doesn’t matter, either. But it was important to me at the time to say thanks to a bunch of folks, and he was at the front of that line.

Tonight, I say thanks again, because you can never say it too many times.