The Internet community has suffered a sad loss as the man who led RIPE during its first 25 years of bottom-up, consensus-driven collaboration and decision-making died at his home in the Netherlands.
As one of the founders of RIPE in 1989 and the Chair of the RIPE community for 25 years since then, Rob Blokzijl personified all the attributes that have seen the community grow into such a positive force for bringing together those who care about the development of the Internet.
Rob's roots were in the high-energy physics community, and earlier in his career he worked at the High Energy Physics Institute in Amsterdam and later at CERN in Geneva. He helped to build the computer networks that were essential for that branch of science. His work in this area would inform much of his contribution to the burgeoning IP networking community in Europe in the early 1980s.
Over the past 30 years, Rob has established a global reputation as a leader and a pioneer, respected for his work with organisations such as RIPE, the RIPE NCC, AMS-IX, ICANN, Nominet and NATO.
In 1989, Rob was co-author of the RIPE Terms of Reference, which stated, “The object of RIPE is to ensure the necessary administrative and technical coordination to allow the operation and expansion of a pan-European IP network.” In his role as the Chair of RIPE, his vision, expertise and effort were essential for the tremendous growth and spread of this world-respected forum, which acted as a model for many subsequent community organisations.
Rob was also one of the key figures in creating the RIPE NCC (RIPE Network Coordination Centre), the body responsible for managing the IP address space in Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia and coordinating the technical community in those regions. The RIPE NCC was the first Regional Internet Registry in the world, and this model has become the accepted way to organise the Internet infrastructure in a more regionally specific, responsive and efficient way.
Rob had a particular talent for being able to engage with all elements of the Internet community, from government and experienced operators to more recent members of the RIPE community to whom he could impart his insight and wisdom on the issues of the day. He brought much common sense to otherwise complicated discussions in the Internet community, and his mantra of “keep it simple” is one that he will be remembered for.
Those who knew Rob personally will miss his sense of humour. He was a storyteller with an outstanding ability to recall and relate the events from his working life, which not only amused his listeners but also enlightened them and informed their discussions. The recent RIPE 71 Meeting was the first not to be attended by Rob due to his illness, and so it was the first where he was not to be found with a cigarette and glass of wine in hand, enjoying the company of those who typically gathered outside the venue entrance to talk about serious matters in a very non-serious way.
His contributions were often officially recognised, notably in receiving Dutch royal honours by being awarded with the title Officer in the Order of Oranje-Nassau in 2010. He also received the Jonathan B. Postel Service Award in 2015 for outstanding contributions in service to the data communications community. Since standing down as RIPE Chair in 2013, he has enjoyed the title RIPE Chair Emeritus.
To many of us in the RIPE community and beyond, Rob was a mentor, a friend, a trusted confidante and always the voice of reason. His legacy stretches from the physical networks the Internet is made of to the community he built and the wisdom he injected into that community's make-up from the very beginning. His legacy will continue to be felt as the community continues to grow and its participants often ask themselves, “What would Rob do?”
The RIPE NCC has set up a webpage where you can leave your own tribute to Rob.