n early February, a phone call reached me as I was driving from Austria to northern Germany. The caller was Almut Snow, who informed me that her husband Tom had died a few days back. There was translation work to be done in connection with Tom's death, and I promised that I would inform the people at Flefo.
For the uninitiated: Flefo (Foreign Language Forum) is the name of a Compuserve newsgroup that used to be the most interesting on-line place for translators back in the 1990s. And in that forum, which was so enjoyable, Tom used to be the most enjoyable contributor.
When I tried to announce Tom's death on Flefo, I realized that Flefo was dead as well. What I found was a deserted successor forum, and the topic was not received as attentively as I would have expected. Instead of evolving into hundreds of messages, the thread attracted six or seven responses at best.
Following my post, Gabe Bokor, who was the system operator of Flefo in its heyday, approached me with the request for an obituary. I agreed to collect some relevant details about Tom's last years here in Austria for the Translation Journal.
Myself, I am Austrian. Tom Snow moved from the States to Austria in 1998. Around three or four years ago, we would occasionally talk on the phone. He seemed to be doing relatively well at the time, although his voice was feeble. Afterwards we were no longer in contact, mainly because I left Flefo, but also because Tom was reluctant to see visitors.
Almut Snow has now supplied me with a number of straightforward details, which I shall try to summarize in the next few paragraphs.
First of all, Tom had been seriously ill for many years. The underlying disease was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (also known as COPD). The physicians said his lungs were "burned out". He also had an incipient heart condition secondary to COPD due to reduced oxygen supply. He was hospitalized four times between last Christmas and his death on January 28, 2005. He also suffered from general weakness, simply because he could not breathe properly despite being ventilated. The immediate cause of death was acute pulmonary congestion.
Almut says that Tom was 68 when he moved from New York to Klagenfurt, Austria. That was not an easy step for him, since he was no longer a young man. Today she thinks it might have been better if he had remained in the States. Tom became overly homesick in the last years of his life, which aggravated his illness and vice versa. In fact, he developed a depression precisely at the time when his physical condition had deteriorated to a point at which returning to the States was no longer an option.
Tom was doing fine with translations after moving to Austria for a while, but then his income gradually declined. In the last two years of his life, the job was no longer profitable but earned him just enough money to cover his overhead. Still, he kept hoping against hope for another turnaround in his life. Almut says she misses his humor, which would occasionally come alive even in his last days.
Yes, humor. I think everybody who experienced Tom on Flefo back in the 1990s knows exactly what Almut must be missing.
I would also like to make a personal contribution to this obituary that is not based on Flefo history, although the train of thought that this involves will immediately take us back to Flefo after all.
In one of the phone conversations I had with Tom, he told me that his attitude about the validity of his own views radically changed in the few years that he had been active on Flefo. Views he had always held very assertively had given way to the realization that almost anything he had been thinking for decades could be challenged. He also said this was the main reason why his posts on Flefo grew ever shorter. Today, the Snowian one-liner is an established art form.
So this was a lesson that Tom learned at the age of 70. A few days ago, I sought inspiration from his track record on Flefo for this obituary. But reading a few of his posts from 1996 reminded me just how witty and insightful that man really was. It would be downright ridiculous for me to provide a brief summary of Tom's thinking based on my understanding of his posts.
The inspiration that I could not find in my archives came while I was browsing another successor forum to Flefo (www.flefo.org). Its owners, Carsten and Joanne Kuckuk, have introduced a section there that is called Lessons learned-hence the title of this obituary.
So, while it was beyond our powers to keep Tom Snow alive, perhaps we can succeed in keeping Flefo alive. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that any remotely authentic successor forum will always reflect, and keep alive, some of Tom's spirit.