RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – The e-mail message hit me in the stomach like a fist. Neal Page, one of this region’s best entrepreneurs and a pioneer in transforming the web from text and HTML to true multimedia, had died late Monday night.

At the young age of 50, Page lost a year-long fight against leukemia, the same disease that had struck his father and one that he had raised thousands of dollars to fight through research.

As a co-founder of Raleigh-based Inlet Technologies, Page helped develop technology that put Indy 500 fans in the seat of their favorite driver – live – over the net. From Major League Baseball to international soccer, tennis and Hollywood productions, Page and the tech wizards of helped enable new levels of entertainment with compression technology. They even helped make bit-heavy high definition portable.

When Business 2.0 magazine gathered what it called technology “disruptors” for an event in the Triangle, Page certainly deserved to be there along with the pioneers of Cree (LED lighting), Lulu (self-publishing), iContact (e-mail marketing), IBM and other companies. “new media for net networks” is Inlet’s slogan, and it fits.

However, the NCSU graduate was much more than a technology geek. He was a loving father of four, a faithful son to an ailing mother, an avid sailor and a lover of all things automotive.

John Bishop, Inlet’s senior vice president for strategy and business development, helped Page launch Inlet in 2003. Page was more than his boss as CEO. More importantly, Bishop recalled Tuesday, Page was a friend and mentor.

“I was ready to leave IBM and someone told me this group of guys had left Sun to start a new company,” Bishop recalled. “That was the last thing an IBM guy wanted – a fun job, right?

“I met Neal as he started Osprey Systems. I’m from the Outer Banks. There was a photo on the way of a boat and a fisherman. We hit it off instantly.”

Page, Bishop and Chief Technology Officer Scott Labrozzi later left Osprey, which had been sold, to launch Inlet in 2003. (Its early financiers including Local Tech Wire parent Capitol Broadcasting.)

When not working, Page spent a lot of time remodeling cars and sailing. “He always was an engineer at heart,” Bishop said.

As Inlet grew, Page set the pace. But a year ago he was diagnosed with leukemia. True to the grit show by many a sailor, Page fought viciously to survive. Treatments and a stem cell transplant from his sister drove the leukemia into remission. But it returned with a vengeance in March, Bishop recalled.

“It took a very, very rapid turn,” Bishop said. “He took five more rounds of chemotherapy.

“Neal was really thinking he could beat this thing.”

Page cut back his duties substantially and spent as much time as he could with his family as spring turned to summer. He also kept his illness quiet.

“Neal was really selfless and didn’t want to draw attention to himself,” Bishop explained. That was one of his instructions.”

Because Page had insisted on building a strong management team, business continued as usual. Current plans are for Inlet to be run by its managers, not a new CEO, Bishop said.

“I visited him four to five days a week and talked to him every day,” Bishop said. “But he never wanted to talk about himself. Ten seconds into every conversation, he’d turn it back to me – how was I doing? It was always about the other person with Neal.”

Bishop wrote a blog about Page and is in his honor.

Meanwhile, Page’s family and company are planning a private service to honor him later this week. A public memorial may be scheduled later, Bishop said.

His children, sister, mother and his friends at Inlet are not alone in grieving the passing of Neal Page.