Bill Hancock, convivial information security pioneer - and amateur stand-up comic - dead at 49
Bill Hancock, who, despite being legally blind, parlayed a gregarious demeanor into a career as an information security icon and cyber-risk and network best practices advocate, died Monday. He was 49.
"He was a very impressive person," said friend and colleague Larry Clinton, COO of the Internet Security Alliance (ISA), where Hancock formerly served as chairman of the Board of Directors. "He was 6-feet-5, legally blind, and when I met him, he was well over 300 pounds. He was a big, blind guy…But he was very outgoing and immensely smart."
The former CSO and senior vice president of security at Exodus, Cable & Wireless and Savvis Communications, Hancock used unconventional means to emphasize security across an organization and to champion for physical and digital security convergence.
He once enrolled in a stand-up comedy class to improve his communication skills and later performed at the historic The Improv comedy club in New York.
"At first, he didn't like speaking," recalled his longtime friend and co-worker Kevin M. Nixon, 51. "It helped calm his nerves and from that point on, you couldn't get him off the stage with a hook. He was colorful and loud in his presentations, but everyone got the message when they left the seminar."
"He loved to speak," Clinton said. "He was a real performer. He always wanted to blend humor into very serious topics because he felt that got people's attention. He was all about getting the job done, whatever it took. He was very eclectic. He was a real Renaissance man."
Hancock, who died recovering from a December surgery to remove a gall bladder, served as chairman of the Federal Communication Commission's Network Reliability and Interoperability Council (NRIC), which sought to develop federal infrastructure best practices in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He also testified before Congress numerous times on topic of cybersecurity.
"Bill was a true security evangelist," Nixon said. "It didn't make any difference if you were John Warner or John Doe. He was going to sit down with you and explain the reason you had to do something until you got it."
He served as CTO and principal of Network One from 1990 to 1999, before it was acquired by Exodus, which was later purchased by Wireless & Cable and then Savvis. He left Savvis in 2005 to join San Antonio-based SecureInfo as its CSO.
An avid karate enthusiast despite having only 20-percent vision due to diabetes that developed when he was a teenager, Hancock often participated in Black Belt events while on business trips.
Few ever doubted Hancock's interpersonal skills, said close friends.
"He was the best friend I ever had as a boss," said Nixon, who worked under Hancock from 2000 to 2005 after meeting him at a security conference 12 years ago in Baltimore.
"Bill's way of managing people was very unique. He used to say, ‘You're hired because you're all experts in your industry and you don't need me in your way. I'm here because I'm here to help you up if you fall down. But the day you stop getting up is the day I get upset with you.'"
A lifelong Dallas area resident, Hancock is survived by his wife, Margeina; son Landreth and stepsons, Nicholas, Thomas, Matthew and Lawrence.
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