Jeanette Symons Packed a Lot Into a Tragically Short Life

Sometimes a tragedy hits close to home, and sometimes it does so quite literally.

Such was the tragedy that occurred on Friday, February 1, 2008, when a Cessna Citation C-525 crashed into the woods near West Gardiner, Maine, just minutes after takeoff from Augusta State Airport.

The pilot was Jeanette Symons, 45; her sole passenger, her son, Balan, 10. Apparently eager to return home after a week attending ski camp at Sugarloaf, they took off in extremely unfavorable weather conditions. They didn’t make it.

For me, this plane crash hit close to home in a number of ways. First, West Gardiner, Maine is just a few miles from my home. She must have flown practically over my house just before her plane went down, and one of the volunteer fire departments that responded to the accident was from my town of Manchester.

Second, the home they were on their way to is Steamboat Springs, Colorado; I too have lived in Colorado. Third, Ms. Symons had been involved in business in the San Francisco Bay Area, founding companies that helped shape the Internet as it exists today; I have also lived in the Bay Area. Finally, she was a stratospherically successful entrepreneur of the kind I only dream of being.

The weather at the time–an unpleasant mix of freezing rain, sleet, and snow that most locals strove to avoid driving in–was undoubtedly a factor in the crash. All the whys and hows have yet to be sorted out, and the investigation is expected to take six months to a year.

In the meantime, she leaves a 7-year-old daughter, Jennie, her parents, and two brothers. And of course many admirers, of which I would count myself one–although, to be honest, I can’t say for sure that I’d ever heard of her before this tragedy made huge headlines on page 1 of my daily newspaper.

Jeanette Symons was a «serial entrepreneur,» said her friend and co-worker Tim Donovan. She was named the wealthiest woman in the country under age 40 by Fortune magazine in 2001, reportedly having a net worth of $374 million that year. She co-founded Zhone Technologies, a telecommunications start-up, and Ascend Communications Inc., a provider of wide-area network solutions, which Lucent Technologies purchased for over $20 billion in 1999. Her latest company, Industrious Kid, runs a networking website for young kids.

«She wanted to bring people together and make good things happen,» said Donovan. «She was an awesome person, a fabulous, hands-on mother and a great friend. She will be missed by all of us.»

The world needs a book about Jeanette Symons. Is anyone working on this?

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