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Bonnie Kalanick, the mother of Uber’s CEO, has died in a boating accident

Travis Kalanick’s father Donald was seriously injured.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick with his parents, Donald and Bonnie, at the Kentucky Derby earlier this month.
Travis Kalanick

Bonnie Kalanick, the mother of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, has died in a boating accident, a company spokesperson said.

She was with her husband Donald, who has been seriously hurt in the incident.

There are no other details about the accident, which took place yesterday.

It’s obviously a terrible tragedy for the Kalanick family. I met Bonnie Kalanick, who once worked in newspaper advertising sales, at her home north of Los Angeles several years ago, while writing a profile of Travis for Vanity Fair. She was kind and also very funny, with an infectious smile and a delightful demeanor. Most of all, she was also deeply proud of her son — she kept pulling out clips she had torn out of newspapers and magazines about him and showing them to me as only a loving mother would — as well as of her entire family. She and her husband were gracious hosts.

Vanity Fair cut the section of my visit with them at their home, which is in its entirety below, but it shows what a special woman and loving parent she was. And she was that indeed.

Here’s the section:

There is always an origin story in tech. And then there are the actual origins.

Consider the story arc of Travis Kalanick, who just a decade ago had moved back in with his parents at 27 years old, once again living in the middle-class home in Northridge, Calif. where he was raised.

In many ways, it’s an ideal setting for anyone, a tidy but modest ranch house on a quiet suburban street. It was there that his mother and father — a newspaper ad sales person and a civil engineer for the city of Los Angeles, both now retired — had told Kalanick that he could do anything he wanted if he just tried hard enough.

Apparently not.

His second startup, a peer-to-peer content delivery network called Red Swoosh, was struggling to make it. This came after the first — a pioneering file-sharing company named Scour — ended in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, an act necessary to avoid a $250 billion lawsuit from the music industry.

Kalanick had dropped out of University of California at Los Angeles to become an entrepreneur in the first place. But he was still barely scraping by and there was no money left from his venture investors to pay himself a salary.

Thus, it was back to his childhood bedroom.

“I was conflicted because I was happy he was home,” says his mother, Bonnie Kalanick, today. “He wore out a path walking in a circle of our kitchen and living room, always on the phone trying to make that company work.”

She gestures to show the route her son trod over and over in what is a small space. It’s a vivid memory still and her eyes tear up at the thought of every past setback that her first-born son has suffered.

“She cries at a Hallmark commercial,” jokes her husband, Don Kalanick. He is jovial, silver-haired man, who loves hunting and tinkering and “figuring things out. But perhaps most of all, he loves to explain the characteristics of his ebullient wife, whose license plate reads “AWS GON.”

Which is to say: Always going.

It was the same with Travis, but back then Don was also not sure what to do with this difficult business problem, as he had done so many times before when raising him. From teaming over complex science projects like building a real electrical transformer to giving him his first experience programming computers, Don had been the one to bring home early computers for his tech-curious son to fiddle with.

But with this second startup in trouble, neither could help Travis, except to hope that all the advantages they had tried to provide him would pay off.

“Working for a newspaper, I was used to sales rejection all the time, so I knew what that was like,” says Bonnie Kalanick. “But I had hope, since he is very determined and he will not back down when he felt he was right – he’s tenacious.”

And where did he get that? She raises her hand high, as her husband chuckled from across the kitchen table.

“I can’t believe she’s got her arm up,” Travis Kalanick, his eyes rolling in that omigodmom expression, finally pipes up. For the last hour, he has been pacing in that very same circle, listening quietly as his parents tell a reporter about his origins.

Earlier, his mother had revealed that this trait of relentless focus and need to win any argument went back to when her son was a very little boy, a skill he later honed in debate club in high school.

“He used to give some of his teachers nervous breakdowns,” she recalls of Kalanick’s ability to stick with an argument he believed in until the bitter end.

“Mom, if you say nervous breakdowns, it gets reported that I actually gave someone a nervous breakdown,” chimes in Kalanick, who is still continually pacing around his parent’s small home in that same circle.

“Well, you did,” she shoots back. But, as Travis prods her, she eventually acquiesces to her son with the practiced shrug and very loving smile of someone who has been in this spot many times before.

“Ok, he was challenging,” she says and then winks at me.

Exactly: Origins.

Recode extends deepest condolences to the Kalanick family.

This article originally appeared on

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