Craig W Johnson
(1946 - 2009)

Craig W Johnson

United States of America
December 28, 1946

United States of America
October 3, 2009

Guest Book
I met Craig at a High School Summer Science Program held at Humboldt State College.

I met his father, Roger, when he came to pick Craig up. Craig's exceptional talents were obvious even in 1963. The kind words in this memorial tell me that he more than lived up to his gifts. I'm only sorry that we couldn't reconnect.
Peete Baer (Long ago friend)
October 15th, 2010
I moved to Silicon Valley in 1993, the year that Craig formed VLG, Venture Law Group. We quickly became best of friends, sharing our Peace Corps stories and discussing with each other how we would go about building great organizations, while still trying to save the world.

As best of friends, we were constantly trying to one-up one another. A couple of years ago, I gave Craig a birthday card, wishing him a very happy 80th birthday. Next month on my birthday I got a card from Craig wishing me a very happy 100th birthday.

Last year, however, I was totally outdone by Craig during our trip to China. Among other contestants, Craig was randomly picked and costumed to compete in a Chinese dance competition – on stage. Well, uninhibited Craig won the competition – and is now more famous in the Hunan province of China than Silicon Valley.

For the past five years, Craig and I have officed together. If you ask anyone in our office to describe Craig, they invariably mention his vibrant but impish smile, his kindheartedness and his respect for everyone.

My wife, Sue, in her long adoration of Craig, would underscore that Craig respected women on an equal basis with men.

My daughter, Monica, would also describe Craig as someone special to her – who went out of his way to help her after she lost her dog – Esprit.

Today, for me, Craig is not gone. Giving partial attribution to Michael Josephson, Craig will be remembered:
 Not for what he bought, but for what he built;
 Not for his success, but for his significance;
 Not for his competence, but for his character;
 Not for what he got, but for what he gave; and
 Not for how many people he knew, but for how many people will feel a lasting loss with his departure.

He will be remembered for his many acts of integrity, compassion and generosity that enriched, empowered and encouraged all of us to emulate his example.

Craig, for all your many gifts, we thank you.

John Dean (Friend)
October 13th, 2009
To: RoseAnn, Craig's Family and Many Friends

Aletha and I send our deepest sympathies at this sudden and devastating loss.

In the past 28 years, Craig has quietly had more impact on my professional career than anyone outside my immediate family. Craig is the mentor of mentors -- generously giving without expecting anything in return.

Josh Green's piece articulated the essence of Craig far more elegantly than I can. I second every word!

I met Craig in 1981 -- the lawyer on the other side of a company sale. Time was critical and the sale would not have gone through without Craig's legal skills and integrity. The purchaser was skittish and I made too many mistakes. This sale gave me the resources to be an entrepreneur and work on projects I enjoy for the rest of my life.

In 1995 Craig seemed to think I should move on from technical work and serve on startup boards as an angel investor. He got up early to go jogging with me, played golf with me and just would not let go till I did what I should have done in the first place and go on the board of Financial Engines. That assignment changed the path of my career.

Craig has introduced me to many individuals who have variously become friends, provided advice, and inspired me. He knew of my reserved manner and quietly kept me in circulation over the years.

Craig, losing you is like losing a parent. It is something I will think of every day I am alive. When my turn comes, thoughts of you will give me strength. I will do my very best to do for others what you have done for me. I will enjoy seeing in my friends any similarities to the essence of you. This will be my tribute to you.

You live on in the deeds and actions of the many people who have the privilege of being your friend.

denis coleman
Atherton, CA
Denis Coleman (Friend)
October 12th, 2009
Fair wind and following seas to Craig, a mentor for more than 20 years. As a WSGR summer associate many years ago, I refused to leave Craig's emerging companies group, much to the consternation of the summer committee. That summer, Craig took me to many fancy lunches at Joy of Junque (plastic dinosaur décor and greasy, vaguely suspicious hamburgers) where he enthusiastically shared many of his radical ideas (like . . . every lawyer needed a PC on their desk). With the exception of one short window when our paths separated, I have practiced law with him ever since. Silicon Valley is an emptier place today for his absence and those of us lucky enough to have been under his wing are orphaned.

David Jargiello
David Jargiello (Mentee and Friend)
October 12th, 2009
I remember a plaque from Craig’s office. If you search the words Craig Johnson, Venture Law Group and rockets you will find them easily:

"Getting started is a lot like launching a rocket,” Craig said. “If the rocket is a tenth of a degree off at launch, it can end up 1,000 miles off downrange."

Some by chance and some by design, Craig and I shared great moments that reflect these words, as well as a career of relationships that embody the same spirit of adventure and inclusive teamwork, of careful guidance, of shared success. And most importantly of a great experience together.

When we set off to found VLG under Craig’s vision, we launched a rocket. One Tuesday morning Craig came to tell his long time partners at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati about a new firm and new model. An acorn seed from which he hoped great things would grow. And that was so difficult for him given the respect Craig had for the institution we had all shared. His instincts and values reflected those that had been passed on by one of his great mentors, the late John Wilson.

In coming days, as we talked with our contacts in the business and client community we knew we were just starting to take flight. We all took comfort with the internal compass of our pilot to hold course in this bold journey.

Over coming months, and later years, so many of us worked to make that flight a success, from all walks of life and across our staff, lawyers and clients, and with our families too. Over the life of VLG, I analogized that launch and what we saw and shared to those moments the Space Shuttle roars upward and then rolls effortlessly as if in a dance move and heads off to escape the boundaries of the atmosphere, yet under both immense thrust and stress. And Craig helped lead, coach and inspire all of us as we traveled though turbulence and calm. Those of us who made that journey over what was ten years with us know how great it was.

Like Apollo before it and soon the Shuttle, we and Craig have since slipped away. But with Craig’s guidance and leadership, we held course and sowed seeds of thinking, focus, success and ways of doing business and having fun together far and wide in the Valley, in the country and in great companies, investment and other firms. And in that same spirit, we all both mourn and celebrate together as Craig’s great extended family.

Craig may be for the ages and generations now as the rocket slips gracefully from sight.

For us though he will live on spiritually as a gentle leader, counselor and builder of all of us and our aspirations, visions and positive spirit too.

And as you soar to the heavens, and look down on us all, God speed Craig Johnson.
Elias Blawie (Partner, friend and mente)
October 11th, 2009
I have been proud to know Craig for the past 28 years, some of them as competitors at WSGR and Brobeck and many others as partners together at VLG. Throughout that entire span of 3 decades, I was most proud to always call Craig my dear friend.

What is the measure of a life well lived? To me, the legacy of such a life is the positive impact that a person has on others. By this measure, Craig's life was legendary. The hundreds, if not thousands, of people who benefited from their relationship with Craig, whether as entrepreneurs, lawyers, staff or other folks from every walk of life are too numerous to count.

Yes, Craig's life was well lived in every respect. All of us have Craig to thank for mentoring, comforting and cheering us on to do things that seemed too hard, too risky, too challenging for us to do on our own. His confidence in all of us was contagious and you could not help but share it. So, in this way, Craig will continue to live in all of us and if we do right by him, we will pass along a little of Craig to the next generation. This is surely the measure of a life well lived.

I believe that I speak for many in saying that our professional lives at VLG were among the happiest, most optimistic, most fun, most fulfilling times that we have ever had. For those of you who were not there, it might be hard to believe that this place really existed. However, none of us who were VLGers doubted its magic, and we all know the magician who made it into reality. Craig's leadership, guidance and vision were embodied in VLG, and we will always have that experience in our memories. Thank you Craig for creating, fostering and nuturing that unique environment. Though the firm doesn't exist any longer, the legacy does. Thank you seems like a far too trite expression to sum up how I feel about those years. They were incredibly special and we had some remarkable achievements.

Craig lived a remarkable life by any measure. He was one of the most optimistic, caring and trusting people that I have ever met. But, he was also one of the most driven, hard working and results-oriented individuals that has ever been part of the storied history of the Silicon Valley. The combination of these traits in a single person is so rare that it is truly unique in my experience. Perhaps that is the best moniker for Craig. He was "unique", striving to combine fun and fullfillment every single day of his life. He certainly passed on those goals to many of the rest of us.

Craig, we will miss you dearly, but to honor you, I will do my best to live my life with both "fun" and "fulfillment", every hour, every day. This will be my tribute to you.

Josh Green (Friend, Partner)
October 10th, 2009
Can we just take a moment to add "goofball" to the mix?
He was complicated, dedicated, compassionate.
He'd be working a multi-million dollar deal on his phone one minute, then wearing a balloon hat at Chevy's the next. Marie Antoinette, Dr. Evil, Carmen Miranda, he channeled them all, and showed all of us how to lighten up.

I will always be touched, thinking of his total devotion to his brother Brian.
Brian was his closest friend on this Earth, and it gives me comfort to think they had each other for 60 years. Too short, of course, but more than most of us will have the privilege to know.

Love you guys, my 'intentional family':
Ro, Matt, Des, Scott, Brian, and the heartbeat of the family in many ways, Joanie.

Sally Smith (friend)
October 9th, 2009
Craig was a very special person and I feel blessed to have known him for over 17 years and to have worked together closely with him on at least two companies (although he has been a consistent advisor and mentor on a number of other ventures over the years). Craig always had great stories, examples and/or analogies that he would share to help others see what he saw. These tools and his example of a life well-lived will live on in the many colleagues that he has touched.

In particular, I will fondly remember not only Craig's sage advice but also the way he seemed to conjure it up. I can remember numerous board meetings where Craig would lean back, rub the sides of his head with the palms of both hands and like Aladdin rubbing his lamp extract some great new concept to solve the present problem or exploit an opportunity in a way that others around him had missed. Craig was absolutely brilliant and the polar opposite of a conventional thinker. He was always up for a creative approach and spent his whole time focused on the possible, or as he said, "finding the next hand or foot hold on the way up the cliff."

I will miss the twinkle in Craig's eye when he heard something new and his constantly positive mental attitude. I also hope that the book he had mentioned he was working on is in a form where some of his unique experiences and derived lessons in entrepreneurship can be more broadly shared.
Lee Lorenzen (friend, co-founder)
October 9th, 2009
Remembering Craig Johnson

(From The Recorder, October 9, 2009)

On October 3, attorney Craig Johnson died after suffering a stroke at age 62. He had just returned from his honeymoon with his wife and business partner RoseAnn Rotandaro. Craig Johnson's accomplishments included founding both Venture Law Group in 1993 and Virtual Law Partners in 2008, where he was still working when he died. There is much admiration for Johnson among his colleagues and friends, and we've collected some rembrances here. A memorial bike ride is planned for Sunday, October 11. It begins at 12 p.m. and meets at the Arrillaga Alumni Center at 326 Galvez St., Stanford, Calif. A more formal memorial will be held at the same location at 2:30 p.m. the same day. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a tax-deductible donation to the Craig Winfield Johnson Memorial Fund at Silicon Valley Community Foundation.


I recall so clearly the day Craig came to my law school and spoke excitedly about Venture Law Group, his vision for the firm, for the practice of law and for excellent client service. What he described did not seem easy or familiar but it did seem meaningful and appealing. I knew right away I wanted to be part of that vision. Years later, I feel very grateful to have been part of the VLG family and now to be a part of the VLP family, both of which would not have been possible without Craig.

But equally important to his gifts as a mentor and a visionary was his example as an incredible human being. In addition to his generosity, humor, relentless optimism and energy he was one of those rare people who achieved much and remained humble. Craig, you will be very missed.

— Ughetta Manzone, Virtual Law Partners founding partner


"Craig" — hundreds of people in Silicon Valley and beyond would know who you were talking about with that one word. And what did they think when they heard that name? In the first place, the mere mention of his name always invited a warm smile. What is Craig dreaming up now? People always wanted to know. In a room filled with intelligent, talented people, it was always Craig we wanted to hear. And when he spoke, it wasn't simply that his thoughts were clear and insightful but that they were wise, even beautiful.

To me, Craig embodied the best of his generation, the best of the '60s: the idealism, the zest, the generosity, the wonder, the feeling that anything is possible, the wish for a better world and the energy to make it so. Why not? We can do it. It will be fun! He lived in a beautiful world of endless possibilities. He made them real.

He was my mentor, my hero and my friend. What a privilege to say those words! If I were to count on one hand the people who made my life the joy it has been, Craig, you are one of them. My gratitude to you, Craig, is as boundless as our loss.

You were far too young to leave us, Craig. It does not seem fair at all. But it was perhaps unfair that I had the undeserved fortune of working for and then with you for so many years. Thank you, Craig, for giving me my start in life, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. To RoseAnn, to Craig's family and to his friends, my condolences and my thanks for sharing a remarkable life. We really loved him a whole lot.

— Tom Tobiason, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe partner


Like many, I will remember Craig as much for his kind and gentle spirit as I will for his brilliance as a lawyer, entrepreneur and an advisor to Silicon Valley technology companies. I was given the unique opportunity to work closely with him over the past year, and I can tell you that his life ended on a high note and with that optimism for the future that is a trademark of this giant of a man. I never met a person who looked with such disdain on the notion that things must be done in the manner in which everyone is doing them or in which they have always been done. He taught me to try to be better by being different. I am a better person, professionally and personally, for having known Craig, and I will miss him greatly. It's been a privilege to call him my mentor and my friend.

One of my favorite memories of Craig involves the logo of Venture Law Group. VLG was different than traditional law firms in many ways, one of these being that the firm's logo was an acorn, representing the small startups that the firm would nurture into mighty oaks. Every year the firm would participate in Rebuilding Together, a program through which community volunteers would spend a Saturday doing home repairs and beautification for a needy family or individual. One year when we were working on the home of an elderly woman, Craig was assigned the task of using a chainsaw to remove a stump from the backyard. Craig took a liking to that chainsaw. He had that thing buzzing incessantly for over an hour. Every now and then I'd look over and see Craig with this fiendish look on his face and chips flying everywhere. After a while it became clear that something was going on, and we realized that Craig had been sculpting that stump into an acorn. And the thing that made it so funny is how good it looked. It really looked like an acorn, complete with a cap and a stem. I was concerned about what the homeowner would think, but realized that we could always just remove it. Well, the homeowner loved it, and as far as I know that acorn still adorns her backyard. I thought that this was a great example of Craig's whimsical sense of humor and his belief that you should have fun in whatever you do.

— Dan Burke, Virtual Law Partners


I was extremely lucky to work for Craig at VLG from 1995 until 2003, and to remain friends with him in the years since.

It was impossible to know Craig professionally, and not be impacted personally.

Craig was often fearless. He would happily forge ahead with ideas that scared others. He derived enormous personal pleasure from defying convention, and finding his own path. And he was very driven. Yet I have never encountered anyone who did not like Craig personally. Craig consistently deflected credit from himself. He refused to take a corner office in the firm that he founded. He was remarkably generous — financially, emotionally and with his time, support and encouragement. He was quick to praise, and sincere in doing so. He avoided arguments wherever possible and would not dwell on the negative. Craig had a wonderful sense of humor — gentle and not mean-spirited — and a remarkable personal warmth. He was brilliant but self-effacing. He was not easily distracted by setbacks, and he focused on what really mattered.

Craig lived life fully, with boundless energy, curiosity and optimism. And along the way he earned the respect and loyalty of so, so many.

Craig mattered. He inspired. And that will continue for a long, long time.

— Mitchell Zuklie, Orrick partner


There are many things I will remember fondly about Craig — his friendly nature, eternally positive outlook, and selfless spirit. But what I will remember most about Craig is that this true legend of Silicon Valley, one of the most important and influential business people in the country over the last three decades, treated me as though I were a peer from the time I was a wide-eyed-green-as-could-be junior associate, always eager to both counsel and collaborate with no hint of ego in sight. For that, I was both astounded and grateful and, like many, many others, am a better professional and person for it.

— Russ Yoshinaka, general counsel at Virtela Communications


What I will most remember about Craig, and every interaction I ever had with him, as with all of the greatest coaches I've ever had, was that my interactions with Craig were never about Craig. They were about the situation I was in, or our client's situation, and what Craig could do to help. Craig's truly genuine, exquisitely focused desire to help people — clients, other lawyers, whomever — ran through everything he did and accomplished. His energy in those efforts was boundless. Helping was his passion, and from that passion he drew limitless energy. You realize it professionally when you listen to the founder/CEO of a multibillion-dollar company thank Craig for his contributions when it was just the CEO, the CEO's wife, and Craig, "at the beginning," "before there was a company" — there was Craig. Listening. Helping. Guiding. Coaching. You realize it personally when you look at his too-short life — the Peace Corps, the number of people whose lives he touched and improved with his mentoring and his wisdom. Craig had fun helping.

Craig once attributed some of his career success and values to his mentor John Wilson (of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati fame). As a young lawyer at Wilson, I sat just down the hall from John, and looking back I can see that connection and influence clearly in who Craig was, at least in my view, as a lawyer (obviously I met Craig many, many years after he and John began their work together). But I have no doubt that "Craig" already existed. John may have molded and trained Craig the lawyer a little. But Craig's "humanity" — his talents as a human being — I think that is nature, not nurture. And so it was simply a matter of time that allowed Craig's humanity to touch and to give so much to so many.

That giving spirit, and willingness to listen, help and guide, ultimately made me (and a lot of people) better at what I (and they) do. And that is my definition of "coach." And it is a rare person that can be a coach. A person who combines the ability to listen and guide and teach and motivate, in myriad ways to suit different players and personalities, with selfless desire for their players' success and with the ability to stand back in a corner during that success. Was Craig perfect? No. Craig was human. But Craig is the quintessential combination of those qualities, and for myself I will be trying to emulate Craig in those qualities for the rest of my life. I suspect that is true of many others that know him.

— Jon Gavenman, Cooley Godward Kronish


I worked with Craig very closely during an 18-month period when he was actively incubating companies. I represented one such company where Craig was a board member and played a key role in the company's successful fundraising efforts and in shaping the company's business model and strategy. What struck me about Craig, besides his obviously immense intelligence, was how he approached the problems of an early-stage startup. He was a lawyer by training but as his career evolved he became more of an all-around "business solutions provider" for the companies with which he was involved. His domain expertise was remarkably broad: He was as facile with Series A financing terms as he was with board dynamics, sales metrics or IP strategy. His multi-disciplinary acumen, I think, is one of the reasons he was able to so effectively think "out of the box" to impart novel solutions to complex problems (so many people have remarked how progressive his thinking was). Craig was very soft-spoken in board meetings but everything he said carried tremendous weight. The respect he carried with the founders and investors allowed him to easily bridge gaps that would emerge between both constituencies in ways no one else could. His energy and enthusiasm were tireless and, as a result, he was someone I always wanted to be around, to learn from. Craig was the blueprint for me as an adviser to emerging-growth companies.

— Caine Moss, Wilson Sonsini partner


I first met Craig in 1984 when I joined Wilson Sonsini as a second-year associate in Craig's practice group. He was the absolute classic "Type A" workaholic, totally committed to his clients and his job, to the expense of almost everything else. I was one of the original six partners with Craig in the formation of Venture Law Group in 1993, and Craig was still very much committed to the vision of VLG and to his clients and job. It has been amazing to see his transformation since then into a man who highly valued family, friends and recreation, and who sought genuine balance in life, as expressed in the values of Virtual Law Partners. He was a visionary, always thinking outside the box. Many of his ideas worked splendidly, while others, of course, didn't fare so well. But I think I remember him most as a problem solver. He could cut through the sludge and get to the bottom line amazingly quickly, then produce a possible solution and get it done. He could use this quite extraordinary skill in almost any situation, including business deals, legal issues, and firm management matters. I recall in particular that when one of the firms at which we were both working finished the build-out of a new floor, no one wanted to occupy the floor, perceiving a move to that floor as a step down in status. The situation seemed almost insoluble until Craig, seeing the logjam and recognizing the problem, decided (along with another senior partner) that they would solve the problem by volunteering to move their groups to the new floor, knowing that no one could see the move as a negative, given Craig's stature in the firm. Presto! Problem solved. Craig even organized a big party on the new floor for the entire firm. Typical Craig: Identify problem, analyze, offer solution and get it done!

— Mike Hall, Latham & Watkins partner


I met Craig when I joined VLP so I only knew him for about 18 months. I spoke to him regularly about the firm's plans and his vision and I was certainly impressed by how clearly he thought through and articulated all of his ideas. My favorite memory, though, is from a firmwide party at his house last summer. We come from all over the U.S. so we get together in person only a couple times a year. At this summer's event we had grown to about 50 people, and when folks came with families in tow we made a big group, with adults meeting face-to-face for the first time, everyone eating picnic lunches on the lawn, and small children racing around his yard.

Craig was in heaven that afternoon. I could see that he felt tremendous pride in the fact that he was (largely) responsible for bringing everyone together. He thought of us as part of his extended family to be sure. More than that, though, Craig embodied a kind of low-key intensity where the highest aspiration is to work hard at something one is passionate about and have fun doing it. We had all spent months plugging away at the nuts and bolts of building the business. That afternoon ... Craig could look around at all of us and see the hard work paying off in the fun we were all having together. The memory of Craig I come back to most frequently is him sitting in his backyard with a tremendous feeling of contentment visible on his face as he watched his newest family members interact.

— Jay Parkhill, Virtual Law Partners


When we posted our memorial photo of Craig on our WWW site, some attorneys thoughtfully suggested that we might want a more somber and professional photo, versus the one that Craig had previously chosen for his bio: crouched over his bike's handle bars, sporting his magenta floral bike jersey, flashing his trademark smile, and embodying the vitality and fearlessness I know he would want to be remembered for. After being chided at other law firms for my long hair and colorful dress, I knew I had found my professional soul mate the first Halloween I spent at VLG, when I passed a conference room with Craig in full Batman regalia, notwithstanding the disheveled hair (cropped in later years) and elephantine glasses, followed in later years by Elvis Presley and Marie Antoinette getups. Craig's penchant for costumes spoke volumes. Fearless, he braved the ridicule of colleagues. Charismatic, he rallied the troops. Disruptive, he supplanted old traditions with new, better ones. Unforgettable: we will miss him always.

— Andrea Chavez, Virtual Law Partners executive partner


I, like many others, am shocked and deeply saddened by the sudden death of Craig Johnson. I started working for Craig after graduating from law school in 1985 and co-founded VLG together in 1993. Craig Johnson played a significant role in advancing my career, just as he played a unique role in mentoring numerous successful attorneys. He would tell us that "he wanted to give each associate his 40 acres and a mule." He selflessly gave each of his associates a core client base and significant face time with clients, including even attendance at board meetings. This enabled each associate to build his or her own practice. I later learned that this is not a common practice for most senior partners in law firms. I believe that Craig had a true gift for mentoring young attorneys.

— Tae Hea Nahm, Storm Ventures


I was a second-year law student when I first met Craig; he was giving a presentation on the intersection of law and entrepreneurship to our class at Yale Law School. His talk was quite inspirational, and I walked up to him after the presentation to shake his hand and introduce myself. Three years later, after I started my legal career in Silicon Valley, I sent him an e-mail to ask him for advice on how I could transition from law into venture capital. Not only did he remember me, that same night at 1 a.m. he sent a long e-mail response to my question, filled with helpful career tips and advice. His selfless generosity with his time, and passion for entrepreneurial spirit of the Valley, is something that I have not since encountered.

— Touraj Parang, Jaxtr
Cal Law (Publication)
October 9th, 2009
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