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Jeff Stamps; wrote books on improving computer systems

JEFF STAMPS JEFF STAMPS
By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / June 15, 2011

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With a mind as elegant as the lines he sliced into mountainsides, skiing down slopes, Jeff Stamps crafted ideas that helped companies improve the way networks of people and computers worked together, inside and outside their walls.

Then what he thought was a stomach ailment brought his biggest challenge. Finding cancer in his pancreas, doctors predicted in May last year that he might die within months.

“Gurus say that every day is really precious and that thinking about death and being aware of your own death will make life more precious to you,’’ he told interviewers George Aiken and Wendy Thayer in October. “You will waste less time. You will be more deliberate and determined. You will be better. You will be more compassionate. You will have less conflictive emotions, and I have found that to be true.’’

He added with the candor and insight friends knew to expect: “I’m not sure that I could have lived my whole life that way. It’s pretty exhausting.’’

Mr. Stamps, who co-wrote books with his wife, Jessica Lipnack, that expanded the understanding of how workplace networks affect the success of businesses and organizations, died Saturday in the West Newton home they bought in 1972. He was 67.

Creating a series of companies that evolved with the business environment, the couple most recently worked as consultants through NetAge, run out of their house.

Over the past four decades, they were consultants to companies and groups that include Apple, Digital Equipment Corp., Fidelity Investments, Royal Dutch Shell, the US Army, and the Presbyterian Church.

“Jeff was always the person with the conceptual approach,’’ his wife said.

“He was really always in his head,’’ said his daughter Eliza, who divides her time between West Newton and Brooklyn, N.Y. “As his daughter, I was able to get glimpses into the kind of genius that was in there. Every time we spoke, he had at least one if not 15 vocabulary words I had never heard of before that he would use just casually. His mind was so on a different level of what we understand as normal intelligence.’’

While rereading the work of the late French writer Albert Camus, Eliza came across a phrase that inspired the title “A Dangerous Experiment,’’ which Mr. Stamps called the memoir he wrote in his final months.

“Mine is a mission-driven life,’’ he wrote.

“At my core, I am a thinker and writer,’’ Mr. Stamps added. “My mission becomes explicit when I write. My medium seems to be books, rather than articles or papers. I am always working on the next one.’’

Beginning in 1982 with “Networking,’’ he and his wife wrote books that include “The Networking Book’’ (1986), “The Age of the Network’’ (1994), and “Virtual Teams’’ (2000).

“We were online in 1980,’’ he said in the October interview Aiken and Thayer conducted for an online alumni forum for Saybrook University in San Francisco, where Mr. Stamps did graduate work. “We were among the first people in the world to be online, part of the first digital conversations.’’

Jeffrey Spaulding Stamps grew up in Gilford, N.H., next to Lake Winnipesaukee.

He was among the best young skiers in the country at 15 when he competed in the junior national championships in Aspen, Colo., finishing sixth in the downhill and eighth in the combined races.

At nearly the same time, he began puttering in his father’s workshop at home and built a computer.

His academic and athletic achievements and prestigious scholarships in the late 1950s and early ’60s were all the more impressive, given that he was nearly deaf. Born with a 60 percent hearing deficit in the sound range of human speech, he became a skilled lip-reader.

“He never took a note in school, ever,’’ his wife said, “because if he looked down, he couldn’t hear what was being said.’’

The hearing deficit, she said, “defined many things about him. He was very introverted and extremely private, and all of this fed his deep conceptual life.’’

Mr. Stamps graduated from Gilford High School, attended Dartmouth College before becoming disenchanted with the fraternity atmosphere, and walked away from an Olympic ski training camp in a dispute with a coach he thought was flouting safety.

To avoid the draft, Mr. Stamps, who didn’t realize that his hearing difficulties would excuse him from military service, went to the University of New Hampshire, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

“It was the last place in the world that I thought I’d go, but I had a fantastic education there,’’ he told Aiken and Thayer.

He attended Oxford University in England on a Fulbright scholarship and received a master of letters degree and later earned a doctorate in systems theory from Saybrook University in San Francisco.

At Oxford, he met Lipnack, who was captivated by his intellect, his antiwar activism, and the figure he cut.

“He wore a leather jacket riding his motorcycle with his long flowing blond hair,’’ she said. “He was very striking.’’

They married in 1972 and bought a 1723 Colonial in West Newton, where they raised Eliza and Miranda, their older daughter, who lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their twin sons.

Surviving months past the initial prognosis, Mr. Stamps remained remarkably agile. In early April, Eliza shot a video, posted on Lipnack’s blog, endlessknots.typepad.com, which shows Mr. Stamps skiing in ways that belied his age, let alone his diagnosis.

“My mom and I used to say that even if there were a hundred people on the trail, you could always pick my dad out, because he had the most beautiful form,’’ she said.

In addition to his wife, two daughters, and twin grandsons, Mr. Stamps leaves his father, James of Westminster, Calif.; a brother, David of Laconia, N.H.; and a sister, Susan of Arlington.

A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. today in First Unitarian Society in Newton. Burial will be in Newton Cemetery.

“As soon as he learned the diagnosis, he did not wither,’’ said Dr. Tom Lamont, a neighbor and longtime friend who is chief of gastroenterology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “A lot of people, I think, would be crushed, but he rose above that. He had this ability to look unflinchingly at what had gone before and what was happening now. I’m a physician, so I’m used to looking at illness and death, but I’ve never seen such bravery.’’

Such a response was rooted partly in the Buddhist thinking Mr. Stamps followed, albeit informally, since attending a seminar with the Dalai Lama 30 years ago.

“The last year of his life was in many ways his best,’’ said Benjamin Taylor, a friend and a former publisher of the Globe. “He decided almost from the moment he received this diagnosis that he wasn’t going to be angry, bitter, or depressed. He was going to accept it and make the most of the time he had left. He showed us all how to die and was an inspiration to every one of us.’’

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bmarquard@globe.com.