The Facebook executive's husband more than held his own in their modern marriage

By Liz McNeil and Kathy Ehrich Dowd
Updated May 08, 2015 04:45 PM
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Credit: Courtesy Facebook

Many might wonder if Dave Goldberg felt like he lived in the shadow of his prominent wife, Facebook executive and “Lean In” founder Sheryl Sandberg, but those who knew the SurveyMonkey CEO have a simple answer to that big question: He didn’t.

Their friends say Goldberg, who died May 1 at age 47 following a treadmill accident, was a successful Silicon Valley executive in his own right, who felt “completely content with who he was.”

“What he built with SurveyMonkey was not trivial: It is valued at $2 billion. He would joke that he was the head of a multi-billion-dollar company – it just happened to be the smaller one in his household,” Quentin Hardy, deputy technology editor at The New York Times, tells PEOPLE. “On his own hook he would have been a fairly significant presence in the Valley. He was just overshadowed by Sheryl but he didn’t mind that, he really didn’t have any ego problem where that was concerned.”

Sandberg, who serves as Facebook’s COO while successfully fostering the “Lean In” movement she founded to nurture women in the workforce, laid her husband to rest on Tuesday. That same day, she posted an emotional tribute to the man she called her “rock.”

“When I got upset, he stayed calm. When I was worried, he said it would be ok. When I wasn’t sure what to do, he figured it out,” she wrote on her Facebook page, while thanking people for the outpouring of support and well-wishes.

Hardy explained that Goldberg truly reveled in helping others succeed, particularly his wife.

“One of his characteristics was he liked giving people advice,” he said. “He really enjoyed the success of his wife.”

Fortune Senior Editor at Large Pattie Sellers, who oversees the Most Powerful Women franchise, recalls meeting Goldberg for the first time in 2008 when Sandberg asked her to speak about women in power at a “soiree” Sandberg was hosting at their Bay Area home.

“I was talking to him in the kitchen and he had a San Francisco Giants cap on and he was a really nice guy,” she tells PEOPLE. “I was just so struck by how regular he was and how grounded he seemed to keep her – and this was literally after a whirlwind party that had everyone from some of the top women in Silicon Valley … He walks in and he was the only guy and totally comfortable among the women. He had no airs.”

“Sheryl married a guy who was never threatened by her power and her fame,” Sellers also said. “Any guy has to be really secure to be that way.”

Hardy said fame was not a driving factor for Goldberg, a Minnesota native and Harvard graduate who served as an executive for Capitol Records before co-founding LAUNCH media, an online music site eventually acquired by Yahoo!, and later joining SurveyMonkey in 2009.

“There is this question: ‘What would it have been like in the shadow of Sheryl Sandberg?’ Well, if you’re a reasonably secure person making millions of dollars before you’re even middle aged …. it really isn’t bad,” he said.

“He had a lot as long as he didn’t worry about these leering expectations about what it’s like to be Mr. Sheryl Sandberg – because he really wasn’t Mr. Sheryl Sandberg,” Hardy also said. “I don’t think he spent ten minutes on that idea. He was pretty grounded. He was in touch with his family, he was in touch with his friends, many of whom he’d met years before all the fame and power. He didn’t care if Sheryl got all the glory. He came home, had dinner with the kids, then did work and played poker with his buddies.”

“They each had fantastic lives on their own,” adds Hardy. “But they wanted to be together.”