Silicon Valley engineer, entrepreneur and author Jon Ferraiolo died on July 16 after a seven-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His journey with ALS was featured in a Palo Alto Weekly cover, “A Vibrant Life,” published July 27, 2018, and an accompanying video. The longtime Palo Alto resident was 67 years old.
Born Jonathan Ferraiolo in the suburbs of Chicago on January 26, 1954, he was the third of four children of Frank Charles, a doctor, and Ruby Barbara Ferraiolo, a housewife. In elementary school in Des Plaines, Ill., He had a penchant for eating the same foods for weeks and months at a time. He excelled in athletics. He later became a de facto football coach in eighth grade after the coach found out he couldn’t live up to his obligations, Ferraiolo wrote in his memoir, “A Little Ugly: How I Triumphed Over a diagnosis of fatal ALS (and an oversized nose). ” He had a knack for writing winning football and basketball games for his teams, going beyond league rules.
A self-proclaimed cerebral “Spock” from the Star Trek TV series, Ferraiolo also had a puck sense of humor that occasionally got him in trouble. He once couldn’t help but kick his mother’s back as she leaned over, exposing her behind, he said in his memoir.
He could also use humor to charm even the most formidable professor. As an adult, his sense of humor became a gift to his family and supported him through his diagnosis and the progressive worsening of his disease, his wife, 47, Karen Kang said. .
At Maine West High School in Illinois, Ferraiolo played on the school’s tennis team. He excelled as a student and maintained a top grade average, taking several crash courses. Chemistry was his favorite. He was obsessed with achieving all A’s in the highest level courses, according to his memoir.
Ferraiolo attended Stanford University from 1972. He graduated in 1976 with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematical Sciences. Although he had a low draft count – 20 – he avoided being inducted during the Vietnam War after President Richard Nixon changed the draft to an all-volunteer army.
He spent a quarter of his second year studying in Tours, France, where he met his future wife, Kang. Ferraiolo had planned to hitchhike around France during a two-week break; Kang had little money after a postal strike delayed his check. At the suggestion of a friend, they teamed up to hitchhike together. Ferraiolo agreed with the idea in part because he believed that a pretty American girl would help run errands, he said during his interview with The Weekly.
It didn’t take long for them to become more than acquaintances. After three days of hitchhiking, on his 20th birthday, Ferraiolo confessed his love. They marked this day as their debut as a couple.
Ferraiolo decides to extend his stay in France by taking a teaching position in Cannes at the International Riviera School. After a year, he returned to Chicago and worked in the Department of Defense contracts office for the summer.
Upon his return to Stanford, he reunited with Kang, a student at Mills College, who had broken up their romance while they were still in France. He approached their renewed relationship with a more positive worldview. They soon married and had three daughters.
Ferraiolo also obtained an MBA in 1983 from the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University. In Silicon Valley, he had a brilliant career in software engineering. He was Director of Engineering at Cimlinc Inc. in Menlo Park from 1986 to 1990.
As the founder and developer of Solstis Development Corporation in Palo Alto, a software and consulting services company, he focused on technical change management from 1990 to 1992.
He spent over 13 years with Adobe Systems in San Jose as an architect, technical director, technical director and senior engineer. He joined the Advanced Technology Group as a senior engineer, where he was a driving force behind the W3C Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) standard. He was the sole publisher of the SVG 1.0 specification and the architect of the SVG-related product efforts. Ferraiolo was the technical director of Photoshop Album. He was part of the PDF language review committee; an XML version of PDF and served as the original publisher of the ePub 1.0 standard, according to its LinkedIn profile.
Ferraiolo was a Distinguished Engineer at IBM from 2006 to 2014. He was part of the emerging technologies of IBM’s software group. He was Managing Director of the Open Ajax Alliance, an industry consortium of businesses and individuals dedicated to promoting open web technologies. He has also been a software architect, engineering manager and product manager for Adobe products such as Illustrator, Acrobat and Premiere. He became known for developing the Precision Graphics Markup Language, the original specification of the Scalable Vector Graphics language (a standard for non-blurred text and graphics), and as a major contributor to the EPUB standard for digital books.
Ferraiolo was diagnosed with ALS in July 2014, a neurodegenerative disease. Throughout his illness, he kept his sense of humor, often supporting his family, Kang said. He continued to find ways to thrive, writing books and staying engaged with the tech community using assistive technologies such as the visual gaze, which allowed him to work on his computer. He wrote his memoirs and his first book, “Holy War for True Democracy,” using only his eyes.
He was also active in the ALS community helping others understand and navigate their diagnosis. Throughout their marriage, family was the most important thing he enjoyed the most, Kang said. He adored her, their three daughters, their husbands and their two grandchildren.
Ferraiolo also had a good overview of his illness, Kang said.
People will go through certain stages of their illness: denial, fear, anger, acceptance, she noted.
“He just got past all of those things. He never got angry; he never dwelled on it. It was the secret to his happiness and satisfaction in his life,” Kang said. .
Ferraiolo happily added to this assessment in his 2018 interview.
“My joke about ALS is: Let go of your pride and dignity. After that, it’s pretty easy,” he said.
The couple moved to Encinitas two years ago to live with a daughter, but kept their Palo Alto home. Ferraiolo passed away peacefully at home surrounded by his family. After several episodes of pneumonia, he decided to forgo continuous breathing support, Kang said.
He is survived by his immediate family: his wife, Karen Kang; daughters Nicole Ferraiolo (husband Taunton Paine); Natalie Ferraiolo (Paul Manning); Allison Ferraiolo (Nicolas Calonne); two grandchildren, Theo and Grafton; her devoted dog, Pepe. He is also survived by his sisters Bobbe Ferraiolo of Napa and Robin Lenna of Florida and his stepmother, Karen Ferraiolo of Des Plaines, Illinois.
He was predeceased by his mother, Ruby Barbara Ferraiolo, his father, Frank Ferraiolo, his brother, Scott Ferraiolo and his half-sister Andrea Steffens.
A celebration of her life will take place on August 27 at 5 p.m., Lucie Stern Community Center, outdoor patio near the community hall, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.
As per Palo Alto COVID-19 restrictions, all unvaccinated people 3 years of age and older are required to wear a face mask, except when eating or drinking during the event. Vaccinated people can go without a mask.
If desired, donations can be made on the Ferraiolo commemorative page to the ALS Association, donate.als.org/jonferraiolo.