I used to moderate, and eventually received complete ownership of, a web forum. It was imaginatively named “The Phorum,” and while it started out as a messageboard attached to a music and movie review site called The Rebel Base, the messageboard outlived the site itself and became a place for a double handful of online friends to connect and talk about whatever.
The hosting for the site was provided by a company called Flockhosting. It was a company founded and run by a man by the name of Chuck Brown, who viewed it as his mission in life to provide low-cost hosting for church websites and other Christianity-adjacent properties. As the Phorum (and The Rebel Base before it) started out as a semireligious endeavor, I guess that was sufficient to get us in.
No matter what problem we were experiencing, Chuck was always happy to step in and help. He seemed to be up to his ears in work; I suppose being the sole employee of a small-to-midsize hosting company will do that to a guy. But despite his busyness, he always had a cheerful demeanor and was a joy to work with. I nicknamed him Ninja Admin Chuck, since it seemed like any problem we had, he would step out of the shadows and solve it nigh-immediately.
At one point, Chuck promoted a special deal: if I were to pay a lump sum up-front, I would get free hosting for life. The lump sum was not significant — I think it was about 2 years’ worth of hosting bills — so I jumped at it (the only delay was that I assumed there was a catch because the offer seemed too good to be true). That move ended up paying for itself, as the Phorum lasted long enough that the regular hosting bills would have come to more than the lump sum I paid.
Eventually, though, the Phorum went the way of its former parent website and it came time to shutter it. That whole saga is a story I’ll tell some other day, but I ended up taking the site down completely. Since I had unlimited lifetime hosting, all I had to pay was the continuing domain name registration. I considered these few bucks a year to be worth not having some spammy site taking over the domain, so I put up a static page that basically said “the Phorum isn’t here anymore” and left it as a sort of electronic grave marker.
A few months ago, I got the annual notification that I needed to renew my domain purchase. I clicked the button to make it so, and thought that would be the end of it. But a couple of weeks ago, I received a notice that my domain expired. “That’s annoying,” thought I. I filed a support ticket with Chuck and thought no more about it.
About a week later, no response. I had let it linger because I knew Chuck was a busy guy, and honestly getting my digital gravesite back up and online was not exactly the highest priority. I decided would check his Twitter feed, because if something is abnormally broken he’ll post about it there and I’ll know not to bother him unless it’s a real emergency.
That’s when I found out Chuck was dead.
He had died of cancer a few months ago. His business, of which he was the sole employee, was gradually grinding to a halt without him. My website had no doubt been down for some time, and I only noticed because the domain expired.
I’d never met him, but in my interactions with him over more than a decade I’d found him to be consistently helpful, cheerful, and good-natured. He encouraged his customers to let him know if there was anything he could help with, even if it was just praying for them. Cynically, I expected this continual bonhomie to crack at some point, but I can’t point to any message from him, even when things were going poorly, that was anything other than friendly. Sure he might be frustrated or drowning in work, but he would never take that out on anyone else.
Rest in peace, Ninja Admin Chuck. The world needs more people like you in it.