The Story Of Ellen Leanse, Apple’s First User Evangelist

Ellen Leanse recent shared her story in a Facebook note and was generous enough to let us republish it here for the TCM audience. Ellen will also be speaking at CMX Summit on Feb 6th, so consider this a small preview of what’s to come. You can follow Ellen on Twitter at @chep2m.

Received a random inquiry via LinkedIn today from a person who owned this mug and wanted to know about its history. Cool to see it again. 1986, if I'm not mistaken. Anyone? Anyone?In 1985, a year after the Macintosh was announced and during one particularly rocky turn in the road of Apple’s history, I was fortunate enough to become Apple’s first User Evangelist.

My charter was to address the frustration directed at Apple from the Apple II and Apple III installed base – individuals, business people, government officials and education leaders from around the world who had come to feel abandoned by Apple as it turned its attention to the Mac.

My early days in this role aligned me with Apple’s passionate User Group community and gave me an eye-opening window into a world I’d never imagined: the early roots of the World Wide Web. Through connected BBSs, Arpa and Darpanet, The Well, Usenet, and other systems, tens of thousands of Apple users around the world were sharing information and support and using their collective knowledge to make the most of their Apple systems.

We began to experiment with information-sharing through a few leads in this network and quickly realized its power to speed product information, updates, and support to people, using much less effort than the standard method – the U.S. Mail – would have allowed.

It was a brilliant breakthrough. People like Dave Cote and Guy Kawasaki got it from the start. John Sculley did, too – in fact, the role had originally been his idea.

But many did not. Despite the clear benefits (ease, speed, savings) the majority of Apple leaders fought the initiative to share information with these networks, saying it was a trend for nerds, a risk to private information (that would, by the way, have been shared anyway), “no ROI”, and all of the other clichés that business pull out when resisting innovation.

In fairness, these were days before email – Dan Case gave his first presentation to Apple months after our users brought us online – and much of the communication was antagonistic. Yet with time and effort, the frustration began to subside. With faster, more open communication and the opportunity to talk to Apple and have their voices heard, our users began to realign with us. When people like Guy started turning to our user groups to source product input and prioritize features (Guy might have been the first online crowdsourcer) the channels shifted notably to the positive – and Apple slowly began to become more open to listening to users.

I founded Apple’s User Group Connection and ran it for nearly five years, joined by talented, passionate colleagues like Craig Elliott, Laura Reynolds, Cathrine Harris, Michelle Free, Carmela Zamora, Dee Anne Dougherty, Judy Tan, Jerry Starr, Rye Livingston, Ken Eddings and others.

We strengthened connections to Apple users in business, education, government, and local communities. Jonathan Rotenberg, Terri Lonier, Raines Cohen, Jerry Cline, Dave Lavery, Stephen Broughall, and many others immersed me in perspective and taught me some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the world of business. Among those lessons were friendship and kindness, as the paragraphs below will reveal.

When I left Apple in 1990, moving to Los Angeles starting a new life as a mom, many from the User Group community gathered to share a farewell gift with me – a wonderful handmade necklace by metalsmith Thomas Mann (who designed on a Mac…I first discovered his work in Boston on my 30th birthday, after an astonishing MacWorld celebration ushered in by the one and only Bill Atkinson – but engineered by a troupe of passionate Mac users. But that’s another story).

Accompanying that gift was a “desktop published” pamphlet crafted by some of the good friends I made during my five years working with Apple’s user community. As I organized some files and archives this weekend, I came across that pamphlet and am sharing it here. Such a perfect tribute to those early times and the spirit of the people who shared their love with Apple way, way back in those early days. With this note I’m thanking them all again for their support, generosity, and kindness, and telling you that everything I learned from you way back then has shaped so much of the adventure and satisfaction I’ve found over the years.

Please add other names to this – I’d love to reconnect with some of the people with whom I shared incomparable adventures way back when. Thank you, 22 years later, for some wonderful memories.

<added 01/13/2014: reading this again floods me with good memories. Really, those were magical times and at the heart of them: incredible people. I’m still grateful.>

The Story of the Lady Ellen and the Believers in the Electronic Way

Once upon a time in a far away land, lush and green, there lived a golden-haired maiden named Ellen. 

The fair lady passed many happy days in an electronic kingdom with a group of marketers, magicians, and wizards at a company named after the lush red fruit. She toiled diligently in the electronic castle, often traveling far to encourage those where were avid followers of the electronic way. 

She knew that they were the true believers of the magic, and important missionaries of the kingdom. Within the castle, the fair lady battled mightily the dual dragons named Apathy and Skepticism, powerful weapons belonging to those within the upper ranks of the kingdom who doubted the power of the missionaries. The dragons were well-trained to strike down the fair lady’s efforts if her plans became too potent. 

But the Lady Ellen was wise in her ways, and as each day passed she befriended the dragon’s owners, displaying to them the ways that the kingdom’s missionaries could bring peace and harmony throughout the land. One day she heard news that she would no longer be alone in her struggle, and that others would join her efforts. As the kingdom grew, the cohorts witnessed much infighting among the lords of power which frequently disrupted life within the castle. But still their dedication to the missionaries continued. 

Then one day in an early spring, when the lush green valley was beginning to recast its color, the lady had a realization. She looked around her and witnessed that her solitary efforts had multiplied eight-fold. The missionaries were well established in their efforts throughout the kingdome, even though they were still frustrated at the closed doors that often faced them in the castle. But the missionaries were fortified by each other in their efforts to share the teachings of the electronic way. 

And the Lady Ellen, knowing that her efforts were rewarded and her mission nearly complete, went to visit the dragons. “Oh dragons of apathy and skepticism,” she murmured. “You have fought long and hard. But we, too, have trained dragons to serve our cause – unique dragons, named Persistence and Belief, who are invisible. Over the years, the missionaries’ energies have sustained them and made them strong.” 

At hearing this the dragons’ eyes kindled with flame. “Oh, Apathy and Indifference, the battle is not yet over, that we know,” whispered the fair Lady Ellen. “But our dragons will continue to grow strong, and multiply. And one day we know that the victory will be ours – even if it is won in silence.” 

So, as the seasons turned, Lady Ellen knew it was time to leave the castle and travel to another part of the lush kingdom. She travelled with her Lord and her child prince, always closely followed by her furry flaxen=haired companion, Broderick. 

And the missionaries across the kingdom were saddened to learn of the news that she was leaving the castle, for they had grown to love her and regard her for the battles she had fought on their behalf within the castle walls. But they knew that she had grown weary of the fighting and that it was the season for her to change.

So they sent a message among them, searching far and wide for a talisman worthy of their respect for her. And some had recalled that she had spoken fondly of an artisan who lived in the southeastern part of the kingdom who worked magic with materials of brass, copper, and silver. They dispatched a message to the artisan, who joined in their cause willingly and crafted a beautiful necklace for the Lady Ellen. 

And it is this necklace, a token of appreciation from all the believers in the electronic way, scattered far and wide throughout the kingdom, that we now present to our dear Lady Ellen. It comes with warm wishes and deep appreciation of all the battles you have fought on our behalf. May you wear it with joy. 


And oh yes, as last we heard, the magic invisible dragons of Persistence and Belief are still growing strong, and in number….


Leon J. Ablon, NYMUG

Thomas Warrick, Washington Apple Pi

Tim Celeski, dBug

Pam Bybell, Boston Computer Society

Terri Lonier, Hudson Valley Mac Users

Bill Davies, MacNexus

Franklin Tessler, MD, LAMG

Jonathan Rotenberg, Boston Computer Society

Stephen Broughall, Jr., Pentagon Macintosh Users Group

Jerry Cline, AzApple

Stephen Prey, CanTrans MUG

Don Rittner, Macintosh News Service

Melanie Hoag, Drexel University MUG

Bill Woodcock, BMUG

Merle Marsh, Worcester County School 

Lavona Rann, TaU

Andy Reese, Apple Corps of Dallas

David Lerner, New York Macusers’ Group

Don Rose, Macademia UGs

Marietta Allen, West Point MUG

Valley Central Mac Users

Easter Orange County MUG

Doug Rudman, Apple Corps of Dallas

Bob West, Apple Corps or Dallas 

1988 User Group Advisory Council...that's me (with big hair) looking exhausted in the front. Thanks to Gail McGovern for sharing this.

1988 User Group Advisory Council…that’s me (with big hair) looking exhausted in the front. Thanks to Gail McGovern for sharing this.



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About the author

David Spinks, CMXSummit and Lifelong student, community builder and writer.

David Fradin
David Fradin

Tom Peters taught us in Apple University in 1983 to get close to your customers.   Accordingly, I had Albert Chu of my Apple /// Independent Business Unit run an Apple /// BBS to which throught his efforts and the help of Maxine Graham and Linda Goffin we grew the membership to 25,000 Apple /// users.That was about 1/3rd of the installed base.  The user interface we developed lived on in Apple Link the company's email system and later in AOL.