“I may be in a wheelchair and I may miss my wife Suzanne terribly, but there’s still life in each of us,” new author Mark Brooks says. Last month, at a Brookdale Assisted Living home in Southern California, Mr. Brooks signed copies of his memoir, “85 is the New 65,” after reading excerpts to dozens of his peers in the audience.
Mr. Brooks may be best known as the feisty CEO of PhoneMate, one of the first “answering machine” companies in the world. After creating the device, which weighed in at over 10 pounds, was delivered in a wooden box, and held up to twenty messages on a reel-to-reel tape, his company (a “high tech” IPO at the time) got the attention of one of the largest upscale department store chains in the U.S. but when it came time to connecting the PhoneMate through an RJ11 jack, one of the world’s largest service providers refused as they were concerned about connecting devices to their consumer phone lines.
PhoneMate sued in the federal courts and won – paving the way for consumer access to the Internet.
The device is arguably one of the first connected on the “Internet of Things” even though the service initially ran over Plain Old Telephone Lines. The case created a precedent for how society would shape not only technology but policy in the future.
When this large service provider notified Mr. Brooks that these devices were not to be connected to their system, Mr. Brooks says in one of the many colorful essays in the book, “I wrote a long letter…pointing out that the answering machine would be a great boon and revenue producer for his Company. Not only would every call be completed and provide income, but the party called would know to return the call, another revenue producing activity.”
At the time, this large telco had no interest in delivering new services to consumers, but over time, the U.S. Federal Court ruled in favor of the PhoneMate and forced service providers to open their phone lines, paving the way to new interconnection technologies and policies, and cracking open the Consumer Electronics Industry and World Wide Web.
Mr. Brooks said, “What’s inspiring to me today is what today’s generation and generations to come are able to build and achieve thanks to the Internet. I love to read as much as I love to write, and every day I am amazed at what inventors and companies are making possible. Remote surgeries! Curing blindness! Educating children who never had access to teachers and schools!”
Mr. Brooks’ colorful life as a CEO in several publicly traded companies is only one part of his memoir. The voluminous book covers a broad range of topics, from the mysteries of life to the joys of love, to death and taxes, to growing old and struggling with the presence of absence of God.
Energetic and fully engaged at the place where he’ll live out the rest of his years, Mr. Brooks is an ambassador for Brookdale, welcoming new neighbors and listening to their stories. He hinted that his second book will be a collection of essays based on those stories which he aims to have published in 2017. “We’re living history here, not just remembering the past.”
As for this year, Brookdale’s corporate office has invited Mark to lead a road show of a different sort than the IPOs he led back in the day. This road show will take him first to another Brookdale home in Corona, and from there to other locations in Southern California.
The book is dedicated to his wife of over sixty years, Suzanne Brooks, who passed away several years ago.
“I am thrilled about my first book being published as I turn 86, ready to start my next volume as I have only shared part of what I’ve learned in my amazing life and wish to pass on to my peers and especially to young people who may wonder what it is like to live this long,” Mr. Brooks said. “I am even more thrilled to be donating 10% of the sales price of each book to the Alzheimer’s Association. Memories are what we carry with us and its time we invested in finding a cure that will help restore and protect memory so that all may live out their final years with their loved ones sharing their beautiful minds.”
From connecting answering machines, to answering a different kind of calling, Mark Brooks is now also becoming a philanthropist in addition to an author – late in life? Yes. But never too late. Here’s to believing we all can continue to create and contribute well into our platinum years.