The Ballad of Yellowbeard

MikeA good friend of mine, Mike Clements, died suddenly last Wednesday. I was granted the privilege of saying some words in his honor at his memorial service on Sunday. As many of Mike’s friends did not know much about his Yellowbeard alter-ego, I thought I would publish my tribute here.

It’s tough to know where to start when talking about Mike, so I might as well start at the beginning. About nine years ago or so, my company, Corsair, had a problem on our hands. Lots of our customers spent a lot of time online talking about our products and our company, and it was clear that many of them needed help. And, occasionally, discussions would erupt into flame wars, where everything would get completely crazy and out of control.

I talked with my tech support manager about this, and asked him if he knew of anyone on the forums who might be able to help us. He gave me a few names, but told me that his recommendation would be one of our frequent forum visitors, some ex-cop from Georgia known as “specmike”.

At first, I’ll have to say that I was skeptical. But, I spent some time on our forum, checking this guy out to see what kind of stuff he was posting. And, I was really encouraged by what I saw. Really intelligent, informed responses, with a very calm communication style. I decided it was worth giving the guy a call and interviewing him.

Now, I don’t know if all y’all southerners know this, but us Yankees have some pretty well established stereotypes of southern law enforcement personnel. So, when I placed my call to specmike, I was fully expecting to hear Buford T Justice himself on the other end of the line. Instead, what I heard was this incredibly soft-spoken, ultra-polite, gentle-sounding character. I tried to picture him making an arrest, and all I could hear was, “Hey, y’all wouldn’t mind putting those hands up in the air, would y’all?”

Anyhow, the call went really well, and we both decided it was a match. He told me his “real” name was Mike Clements, and I told him he was hired. Back in those pre-facebook days, no one used their real name online, so I suggested to Mike that he pick his favorite pirate to use as a handle. Mike picked Yellowbeard, a Monty Python creation. And I think this perhaps gave me my first inkling about what sort of character we were bringing on board.

Yellowbeard had two jobs to do. The first was pretty simple – hang out on the forums, look for people who need help, and assist them. The second was to look for any discussions about Corsair that were turning into conflicts, and defuse the situation. My guess is, no one in this room would be surprised to hear that Mike was a natural in this new job. I think for him it was basically like police work for geeks. Mike clearly loved it, was a complete pro at it, and over time Yellowbeard became legendary. People would ask for him by name, and would beg him to get involved in any touchy issue.

I know you guys probably would take my word for this, but I want you to hear from just a small sample of some of the people Mike helped over the years, who are mourning his loss on the forums and on Facebook. So here we go…

“Corsair Mike has been a fixture in several places for a long time , one of the most helpful guys I’ve ever dealt with , the pc world will be a lesser place without him.
   or…
“Count me as another who has been personally helped by Mike. He is a big part of why I go to corsair for my memory.
   and…
“Mike was everywhere. He was at most of the computer shows, was at many gaming lan parties, on many forums. Not many people like him. He was one in a million.
   also…
“The community, the industry and technology-friend is missing someone that moved mountains and achieved more than most will ever be able to do.”
    and finally…
“Very sad to hear this news…Mikey… hope you’re going off HUGE dirt kickers in BMX heaven brother. One of the nicest, coolest guys I’ve EVER met period.”

Dozens and dozens of tributes like this have come in, not only from America but from all five continents.

Mike joined Corsair following a very difficult and lengthy recovery from a neck injury that he incurred in his police work. It was a time of great uncertainty for him, and several times he told me very frankly and directly how grateful he was to Corsair for the element of stability and security that the company provided. I was always very moved by his honesty and humility, and even more moved by how he translated this sentiment into actions. There was no problem that I could throw his way that he wouldn’t beat his head against until everything was under control. And everyone at Corsair knew Mike as someone who would go the extra mile to help out in almost every situation. This, combined with his demeanor, his sense of humor, his expertise, and yes, his general goofiness, made him a very popular guy at Corsair. I know that all of us here would agree that Mike was a true character, a real one-of-a-kind guy. And, to Californians who don’t get much exposure to his brand of Georgia craziness, he was truly larger than life.

I worked directly with Mike for over eight years. During that time we spoke several times per week, and during this or that crisis it was many times per day. We didn’t just talk about work, as you might imagine. Very quickly, it became work, cars, bikes and biking, music, politics, insomnia, fatherhood, working out, or his latest insane injury. I felt a strong bond with Mike, and I am afraid that his loss leaves a wound that will take a long time to heal.

Like most of us, Mike grew up from childhood to become a responsible adult. But unlike most of us, Mike seems not to have grown out of his childhood. He never lost that joy and enthusiasm that you have when you are a kid. I mean, what sane 46-year-old adult rides a BMX bike? Especially mere weeks after blowing up his knee on that same BMX bike? Or puts on a wig and face paint to go to a party? Or finds himself a job that requires him to be an expert on computer games? Mike, that’s who. And we were all infused by this spirit of his, and are much the better for it.

Mike was a good teammate, a good friend, and a good man. It is really, really difficult for my brain to process the fact that he is gone. It just doesn’t seem possible. I loved Mike, and am proud that he was my friend. I know that his memory will always be with me, and I am looking forward to the day when the smiles that his memory invariably brings to my face will displace the ache in my heart that his loss has caused.

Mike leaves a strong legacy of the hundreds of others he helped both as a police officer and as Yellowbeard, as well as of the smiles he brought to the faces of the many people who loved him.

9 thoughts on “The Ballad of Yellowbeard

  1. John Achey

    John—How did Mike die? He sounds like a fantastic person and friend. I mourn for you. Jeff had a close friend who died suddenly recently, too. Suicide. Love, Aunt Vee

    Reply
    1. John Beekley Post author

      Aunt Vee, he went to sleep in the afternoon and did not wake up. They say it may take eight weeks to determine cause of death. Very tragic – only 46 years old.

      Reply
  2. friarcook

    I knew, and worked with Mike, when he was a police. He was beyond a doubt the most caring, genuine, and sympathetic person you would ever meet. True story: he took up money in order to go to the grocery store in order to buy food for a family while on a call. D-Team (the night shift at the time) delivered. He left law enforcement, but he didn’t cut ties. He remained friends with defense and prosecutors at the state level. Great guy. Big loss. I’m sad.

    Reply
  3. Paige

    I’m one of his friends from GA, and I just want to thank you for this beautiful tribute. It was impossible to meet Mike and not love him immediately. We were all grateful y’all came along when you did. It’s amazing how many lives he touched.

    Reply
  4. Nathan Frith

    John,

    I attended Mike’s memorial service, and heard your tribute. It meant so much to me to hear a complete stranger affirm the quality and the character that I know Mike embodied in life. I have known Mike for nearly 25 years and have enjoyed many, many happy moments in his company. His sense of fun was infectious, his zest for life was inspiring, and his dedication as a husband, father, and friend made me want to be a better person. I was there when he was dealing with his neck injury, and it was a very tough time for he and his family. Lots of uncertainty, and anxiety and worries that would have crushed lesser men. But Mike stuck it out and refused to quit. Since he was no longer physically able to pursue the career to which he had devoted his life, he followed his other passion, computers. This was one passion we shared, and so I got to go along for the ride, so to speak, as he discovered that he could turn his talents towards a completely different set of problems, and be damned good at it to boot. Few people have that ability, and Mike was able to turn that into a career working for one of the most recognized names in the industry. The effect this had on he and his family is not to be understated. It was salvation in a way, and I appreciate very much that you recognized Mike for who and what he was, and gave him a chance. Hearing your words was a blessing to me, and I am sure to many others, at a time when we are just trying to make sense of it all. It took a lot of courage for you to stand up in front of a crowd of complete strangers and say those words, and I want to thank you from the bottom of my very heavy heart. It will help in the days to come as we all deal with this tragedy.

    Nathan Frith

    Reply
  5. Ruben

    Thanks John – a lovely tribute, to a lovely man, Mike (or at least his forum alter-ego “Yellowbeard”) was probably my first contact with the Corsair brand. I think you’ve captured his personality beautifully here.

    Reply
  6. Jason Stewart

    Mr Beekly,

    My name is Jason. I am Mike’s nephew. He was my hero and I loved him dearly. I truly wanted to emulate him in my life. Mike was about 6 years older than myself and when I was a boy of about 13 or so, he was the coolest older ‘kid’ that I ever knew. The great thing about Mike, though, was that he didn’t waist the opportunity to hang out with me and take me under his wing so to speak at that time of my life. He had a huge influence on who I would eventually become. In fact, it was because of him that I pursued law enforcement as a career for a while myself. I know that it has been many years since his passing but recently I have thought a great deal about him and I wanted to see exactly what his legacy as ‘Yellowbeard’ truly was. I have looked online at many of the posts that people from all over the world posted after his untimely death and I am amazed, though not surprised, at how well known and highly considered he was in the community that he worked in. Above all else, though, I appreciate this wonderful piece that you wrote about him. You truly captured his spirit and one can tell that your sincerity and pain at that time was real. To this day, it still hurts and tears are shed when I, and many besides myself, think about Uncle Mike. But the smiles that you spoke of have also began to appear. As many years as it has been, I hope that this message gets to you and I hope it finds you healthy and happy. Any true friend of Uncle Mike’s is family to those of us left behind to mourn him. Thank you sir, even after all this time.

    Regards,

    Jason Stewart

    Reply

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