PALO ALTO, Calif. — Long after the crowd gathered for Dave Goldberg's memorial service had left the auditorium at Stanford University on Tuesday, one friend of the SurveyMonkey CEO sat in the shade of a pine tree trying to make sense of things.
Goldberg's passing Friday due to an accident while exercising in Mexico left his wife, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and two children without a husband and father and cast a shadow on this perpetually sunny landscape.
But it was more than that for Chris Tsakalakis, who met his pal "Goldie" in 1989 when they were new consultants in the Boston offices of Bain & Company. One of the greatest losses of Goldberg's death was the impact his absence will have on Silicon Valley decades down the road.
"Twenty years from now, the deficit we will have in our community at large as compared to if he had been here will be noticeable," says Tsakalakis, who until last December was president of eBay-owned ticket broker StubHub. "He was simply one of the best people I knew, someone who helped me at every turn in very real ways. And I bet you many people inside that memorial today were helped by him in just the same way."
Tsakalakis looks down. "I look back now and think how blessed I was to know him," he says. "And perhaps I also feel a little bit guilty that I never gave as much as I got from him."
Such sentiments square with the various online reminiscences and tributes to Goldberg, whose death Friday while vacationing at a private residence in Punta Mita, Mexico, seems as improbable as it is stunning.
Goldberg died as a result of an accident on a treadmill at a vacation retreat near Puerto Vallarta. The prosecutors' office in Nayarit state told USA TODAY that Goldberg appeared to have lost his grip on the equipment's railings, fallen backward and hit his head.
He was found by his brother hours later, alive. But Goldberg died shortly after arriving at a nearby hospital.
The hastily arranged memorial, which was staffed by Facebook employees and not open to the news media, drew a full house in the 1,700-seat auditorium on the palm-studded Stanford campus. Almost everyone wore black, including Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman.
Some splashes of purple were visible: hats with the Minnesota Vikings' logo, Goldberg's home-state team. The list of attendees — LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman — was a who's who of tech leaders. But it extended beyond. Filmmaker George Lucas, musician Bono (who sang), Walt Disney & Co. CEO Bob Iger and actor Ben Affleck all attended, according to news reports, attesting to Goldberg's ties to the entertainment world and wife Sandberg's stature at the influential Facebook.
SANDBERG: 'DAVE WAS MY ROCK'
Early Tuesday, Sandberg updated her Facebook cover photo to show herself and Goldberg dancing on their wedding day. Tuesday afternoon, she posted a longer entry remembering her late husband, whom she said showed her the Internet for the first time and "introduced me to much cooler music than I had ever heard."
"Dave was my rock. When I got upset, he stayed calm. When I was worried, he said it would be ok. When I wasn't sure what to do, he figured it out. He was completely dedicated to his children in every way – and their strength these past few days is the best sign I could have that Dave is still here with us in spirit," she wrote in the post.
Prior to the memorial, President Obama posted a heartfelt tribute to the entrepreneur.
"David Goldberg embodied the definition of a real leader — someone who was always looking for ways to empower others," read the post on the White House's Facebook account. "His skills as an entrepreneur created opportunity for many; his love for his family was a joy to behold, and his example as a husband and father was something we could all learn from," read the post, published late Monday, Pacific time.
It was signed -bo, the initials of President Barack Obama.
On the White House page, Sheryl Sandberg posted a comment thanking the president "for this beautiful tribute — and for your friendship to our family. Dave Goldberg admired you for your leadership, passion, and your deep love of sports."
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, also commented, "Thank you for this beautiful tribute."
Mourning plans halted the hectic pace of Silicon Valley. The event prompted The Walt Disney & Co. — where Sandberg is a board member — to reschedule its earnings call to early Tuesday and other executives to cancel appearances at conferences, including the tech-investment Collision conference in Las Vegas, where Goldberg had been scheduled to participate in a panel on what businesses can learn from poker.
Goldberg was known for his friendliness, mentoring and his advocacy for women. For Tsakalakis — who declined to elaborate on what went on inside the event — the measure of the man was taken early in those twentysomething consulting years, when he and Goldberg were dispatched to help a small turkey company in Grand Rapids, Mich., improve its business.
"One trip, instead of heading home to Boston with me, he volunteered to stay at the factory and help them with their turkey inventory management," Tsakalakis recalls with a laugh. "Me? I couldn't get out of there fast enough."
The friends stayed in touch through the decades. Tsakalakis wound up in Europe and Goldberg in Australia, but both eventually were drawn by the promise of technology. Although Goldberg started in Los Angeles, he wound up in the Bay Area after meeting another executive with whom he was smitten.
"Goldie, you know, well, he never had a ton of girlfriends, so we were all very curious, who is this Sheryl?" says Tsakalakis. "You could tell she was someone special."
After Tsakalakis took leave of StubHub late last year, he looked for guidance from a range of friends — but none more so than Goldberg.
One of the dozen meetings engineered with Goldberg's help was supposed to happen this morning. When Tsakalakis called the executive to postpone, he quickly realized there was no need. The man would also be at the memorial for their mutual friend.
"I looked around that auditorium today, and all I could see where people that I knew because of Goldie," he says softly. "Like someone inside said, 'He was a mensch.' Truly."
Contributing: Laura Mandaro in San Francisco