Web accessibility engineerAl Boss

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Born in Potosi, Mo., Boss’s father ran the general store in the small town, and his mother was a homemaker. In high school, another student kept stealing Al’s deodorant so he wrapped a can of spray paint with a deodorant label. The dupe spray-painted his armpits black, and got the message. Boss attended the University of Missouri, receiving degrees that reflected his interest in just about everything: medical anthropology and community development. After he graduated he followed some friends to Seattle, Wash., where he met his wife, Laura, in a class at the University of Washington, and stayed there the rest of his life.

Randy and Kit Cassingham with Al Boss in Portland, Ore., November 2015. (Photo: Leo Notenboom)

Boss was also a This is True reader — for about 25 years. But not just a reader: we exchanged quite a few emails and, when Kit and I were in Portland, Ore., he drove down with Laura to meet us. In 2017 I went to Seattle to visit a friend, and we took a bit of time to meet with him again. That time he brought his son, Nathan. Al was also a frequent contestant in the Premium Tagline Challenge, though I often couldn’t publish them because they were too risqué (but he knew I’d laugh at them!). “Probably none of these are printable,” he wrote atop one batch of entries in 2016, “but thanks for putting me in touch with my inner adolescent. Laura might never speak to either of us again now.” He was also a member of the True forum, and a frequent email correspondent. He also had one of the coolest names of any of my friends.

Al worked 19 years for King County as a computer/web accessibility engineer, and a “human Swiss Army knife” — which I can relate to, since I was such a “staff generalist” at JPL, one of my bosses actually called me that as my team title. “He had a way of problem solving that took all components of a situation into consideration,” said Boss’s colleague, Elizabeth Inglese, who called Al “seriously brilliant.” She continued, “He could look at scenarios from a 50,000-foot view, but also from a boots-on-the-ground perspective. With everything he did, he approached it thoughtfully, carefully, and with a light sense of humor.”

For instance, when someone on the web team wanted to put “pop-ups” on the city’s web site, Al argued against them. “How would you like it,” he said, “if before you go shopping at Home Depot, you were asked if you would like to hear the history of Home Depot?” On the side, Al taught web design at South Seattle Community College and Cascadia Community College. He would assign students to create a website that had the “worst user experience” so they could better understand what made for the bad experience, and how to avoid those pitfalls.

In emails, knowing I volunteered as a medic, Al sometimes described what he saw in his own volunteer work with the Seattle King County Clinic, an annual four-day free dental, vision, and medical health clinic for anyone in the region who needs it, but can’t afford it. Boss “was incredibly kind, dedicated, funny, and always fully present, engaged, and thoughtful,” said Clinic Project Executive Julia Colson. “We are incredibly grateful for the time he spent with us, his commitment to making the world a better place, and the bright light he brought with him wherever he went.” Nathan said his dad was “a saint and his best friend,” from whom he learned “to get creative, not mad.” Al probably learned great patience because he had prosopagnosia, a disorder sometimes called “face blindness” — the inability to recognize people’s faces. He also volunteered for the Red Cross, Crisis Connections, Cancer Lifeline, Habitat for Humanity, and other organizations.

The Get Out of Hell Free card, created by Randy Cassingham. (Click the card to go to its web site.)

On May 14, Boss attended the “Salon of Shame”, an every-few-months show since 2005. “The idea is simple,” the theater says. “Seattleites read on stage from their worst adolescent writing, including middle school diaries, high school poetry, unsent letters, etc.” As he was leaving the theater, Al fell, and was rushed to Harborview Medical Center. As he lay dying, about 50 of his family and friends showed up to pay their respects, his family says. Nathan put a Get Out of Hell Free card in his hand. His father, he explained, liked to give out the cards to people to cheer them up. Albert Wayne Boss died from his injuries on May 19, 24 years (almost to the day) after he upgraded to Premium. He was 63, and I miss him.

From This is True for 19 May 2024