Family tragedy for former YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare.

Earlier this week, the 19-year-old son of former YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, was found dead at UC Berkeley of an apparent drug overdose, according to his grandmother, Esther Wojcicki. The  news broke widely yesterday, though Wojcicki posted the news to Facebook several days ago, writing: “Tragedy hit my family yesterday. My beloved grandson Marco Troper, age 19 passed away yesterday. Our family is devastated beyond comprehension. Marco was the most kind, loving, smart, fun and beautiful human being. He was just getting started on his second semester of his freshman year at UC Berkeley majoring in math and was truly loving it. He had a strong community of friends from his dorm at Stern Hall and his fraternity Zeta Psi and was thriving academically. At home, he would tell us endless stories of his life and friends at Berkeley.”

UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore has said there were no signs of foul play and that an investigation into the death is underway.

Esther Wojcicki told the Palo Alto Daily of her grandson’s passing, “Kids in college, especially freshmen and sophomores, experiment with everything. I think this was an experiment that went wrong.” She separately told the San Francisco Chronicle: “He ingested a drug, and we don’t know what was in it. One thing we do know, it was a drug.”

Wojcicki stepped down as CEO of the Alphabet-owned subsidiary one year ago, writing in a blog post that after nine years in the role, she’d “decided to start a new chapter focused on my family, health and personal projects I’m passionate about.”

Neal Mohan, then YouTube’s chief product officer, has run the organization since.

I didn’t have the opportunity to interview Wojcicki while she held one of the most prestigious CEO posts in the world. I do remember being captivated by her appearance at a Fortune event in Aspen back in 2015 as she answered questions that she was asked routinely, centering on how she juggled an all-encompassing job with also being a mother to five children. Her interviewer, veteran reporter Adam Lashinsky, was teased in an interview later that same day with brothers Ari and Rahm Emanuel, who noted that Lashinsky didn’t ask them at all about their children. But truthfully,  as a working mother of two children and a considerably less-demanding job at the time, I was also curious how Wojcicki — who gave birth to her youngest child just ahead of the event — handled it all.

Notably, she did not push back on the question. Instead, she talked about associating her different children with different stages of Google’s growth, after first responding, “‘You’re pretty busy’ is maybe the short answer. I love kids, I love work and I think at some level I just love creating things and building. And like kids are very rewarding projects. Building companies is rewarding too and I enjoy doing both.”

My heart now breaks for Wojcicki and her family, which is known far beyond their home in Silicon Valley and includes 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki, Susan and Anne’s sister Janet, a professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, and Esther Wojcicki, a renown educator who has written extensively on how to raise successful children.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Esther Wojcicki told the SF Chronicle that the family is speaking with the press in part to “prevent this from happening to any other family.” 

“Tragedy is very hard to sustain,” told the Chronicle. “It makes you want to hide in a closet and never come out. But I think the main thing is that we need to push forward to see what we can do to help other people so there won’t be any other kids who end up like Marco.”

Presumably, his death is already sparking widespread conversations. After hearing of it late yesterday, I reminded my own children of the dangers of drugs, how painfully precious life is, and that no one is immune to calamity.

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