Two days after his 15-year-old son was murdered by a gang robbing a friend’s iPod, Errol Rose of Brooklyn answered his cellphone to hear a soft and gentle voice.
“I’m Steve Jobs,” the man said.
“Oh, OK,” Rose replied.
Rose is a construction worker who labors with such decidedly un-digital materials as concrete, and he was one person to whom Jobs’s fame still had not spread in 2005. Rose only knew the name from somebody who had telephoned earlier in the day to say that a Steve Jobs wished to make a condolence call.
“I’m sorry about what happened to your son,” Steve Jobs now said. “What would you ask of me?”
Rose could not think beyond having to bury his son and there was nothing anybody else could do about that. Rose did find himself touched not so much by what this man said, but by the way he said it. The tone was familiar, as if they were somehow kin. A pause joined each word, making it seem that even the simplest syllable came from the heart. The man much of the world knew as a genius when it came to what people did not even know they wanted also had a way of comforting a grieving father at a time when no comfort seemed possible.
“In your darkest moment,” Rose said.
As word of the call spread, the reaction of those around him gave Errol Rose a measure of Jobs’s fame and stature.
“To find out who he was…” Rose said.
His wife Sharon Rose, added, “We really felt special. We really felt significant. Somebody really cared.”
They learned that Jobs had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the year before and they wondered if a heightened sense of his own mortality had helped him say so much beyond his actual words.
“I imagine that this man knew what death was all about,” Errol Rose said.
The Roses marveled as Jobs followed the iPod with the iPhone and the iPad even as he battled his disease. They sought to make their own, more modest contribution to the world with the Christopher Rose Community Empowerment Campaign. They counseled young people in an effort to steer them away from jail and into college, to prevent tragedies such as befell their son. They sought to reach what technological innovation does not change.
“Find out exactly what’s in them,” Errol Rose said.
On Wednesday, somebody texted Sharon Rose to tell her that Jobs had died. Her eyes welled.
“Immediately, my mind flashed back to that day,” she says. “For that moment in time, he showed his heart and it stuck with me.”
Errol Rose heard the news on his car radio. An added sadness stayed with him on Thursday as he worked at the site of a new basketball arena, the future home of the Brooklyn Nets. He then proceeded with his wife to a meeting of their empowerment campaign at the Miller Evangelical Christian Union Church, a very long way from Silicon Valley. They spoke in tender tones of the soft-voiced stranger who had called them at their darkest moment.
“I wish I had gotten a chance to meet him, just to tell him thank you,” Sharon Rose said.
“I’m missing him like he was a friend of mine,” Errol Rose said.