Picture of the Alps from Bolzano, Italy. Take at the Fedora Mindshare FAD in March 2018.

A reflection: Gabriele Trombini (mailga)

Trigger warning: Grief, death.

Two years passed since we last met in Bolzano. I remember you traveled in for a day to join the 2018 Fedora Mindshare FAD. You came many hours from your home to see us, and share your experiences and wisdom from both the global and Italian Fedora Community. And this week, I learned that you, Gabriele “Gabri” Trombini, passed away from a heart attack. To act like the news didn’t affect me denies my humanity. In 2020, a year that feels like it has taken away so much already, we are greeted by another heart-breaking loss.

But to succumb to the despair and sadness of this year would deny the warm, happy memories we shared together. We shared goals of supporting the Fedora Project but also learning from each other.

So, this post is a brief reflection of your life as I knew you. A final celebration of the great memories we shared together, that I only wish I could have shared with you while you were still here.

A photograph of Gabriele Trombini at Flock 2016 in Kraków, Poland. Gabriele is seated in a chair around a table, in the middle of two others.
Gabriele Trombini, or “Gabri”, at Flock 2016 in Kraków, Poland.


We had a unique privilege of meeting first in person before meeting online. At Flock 2015, of course I remember coming to your Fedora-Join session. This was my first introduction to the volunteer-supported mentorship community that exists in Fedora. Even though there was one particularly disruptive audience member, I remember learning from you and noting your long-time experience in the Fedora Community.

After that, we would come to know each other better. As I began a new chapter of my life at my university, we would become frequent collaborators. The Fedora Marketing team was always interesting to me, as part of the group of people who helped our community talk about and share the Fedora Project with others. Underneath your gentle mentorship, I learned the focus areas and history of the Fedora Marketing team.

At some point in 2015 or 2016, you asked me if I would like to chair a Marketing Team meeting. Thus began an early step in my journey from a participant to a facilitator. In a tragically ironic way, it strikes me how I did not see your guidance as mentorship at the time. I always saw our conversations as two friends discussing a shared hobby or interest. Such is the subtle art of teaching and mentorship.

Your many contributions

You were a cornerstone community member of Fedora for many years. Since our connection was from Fedora, it is worth noting the many contributions you made over the years. Long before Fedora or Linux were anything I knew about.

You and Robert Mayr co-authored a book together about Fedora 9, I think for the Italian Linux community. You were a one-time steward of the Fedora Join and Marketing teams. You were an influential member in shaping what Mindshare is today, from the days of the Fedora Outreach Steering Committee, the Fedora Ambassador Steering Committee before that, and grassroots community organizing in Italy even before that.

Beyond the source

But perhaps the memories I treasure most are the ones that don’t have much to do with Fedora at all. I remember learning that “in real life” you were a co-owner of a heating and air conditioning business in Italy. For many years, my family ran a heating and air conditioning company of our own. This was an experience I could always understand. I remember the times when you would go offline for some time. Then I would hear from you eventually, and you would tell me how the busy season kept you away from helping out in Fedora. And in a few words in IRC private messages, I simply knew and smiled.

We would meet at Flock events, but I find Flock is usually tough to get 1×1 time with others. I remember the day you came up and joined us in Bolzano for the 2018 Mindshare FAD. On a weekend day in March, you came and sat in a wine cellar converted to a conference room, where we spent the day recounting pain points and how Mindshare would address them.

And then, our small group went out for dinner. The food we ate and words we said are now faded memories, but the experience lives warmly in my heart as I think about what your life meant to me.

I was saddened to find no photographs or pictures of us together. But I went looking for our last conversations and found these final messages on IRC:

**** BEGIN LOGGING AT Sun Dec  4 17:49:56 2016

Dec 04 17:49:56 <jflory7>   That would be fantastic... I'll definitely let you know if I have plans to visit Italy. :)

Dec 05 07:00:32 <mailga>    jflory7 hope it happens. :)

**** ENDING LOGGING AT Wed Dec  7 00:28:51 2016

I never got to take you up on your offer to visit your home and meet your family. But I am happy that I had the opportunity to partially fulfill that old promise of meeting together in Italy.

Why write this?

I didn’t write this post with an outline, or a template. These words came to me while sitting with my own emotions and feelings. I am writing this because this is an effective coping mechanism for me to process what is lost, but also how to move forward from the loss.

The Fedora Project has given me a lot over the last five years. I have met many wonderful people and contributed to things that matter a great deal to me. But Fedora has also taught me about loss. There are many lessons in life that have nothing to do with work, code, software, or engineering, but have everything to do with how we look at the world.

In the wake of losing you, I think of the kind words and memories we shared that I did not tell you were important to me. I think of how the opportunity is permanently missed for me to share my appreciation of your kindness and friendship. The tragedy of youth is perhaps that I failed to fully appreciate our connection until after you passed.

When writing this, I came to realize something for me. And this will be different for everyone. But I like to think for Gabrielle and me, Fedora was never just about building an operating system. It was about collaborating with other people, human beings, on a digital infrastructure project that mattered, and to share kindness unto others — especially beginners and newcomers.

Rest in peace, amico.

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