EMC co-founder and former US Ambassador to Ireland Richard Egan has after a long battle with lung cancer and other illnesses. Egan, who was 73, is survived by his wife of 52 years, Maureen, and five children.

According to reports in both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald, Egan died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. "This is a great loss for our family and we are terribly saddened. We ask that the media respect our family's privacy at this difficult time,' the family said in a statement.

EMC CEO Joe Tucci described Egan as a great man and a great leader. "Dick's vision became one of the world's top technology companies, and his legacy will live on through the tens of thousands of lives he affected in so many positive ways. We have all lost a great mentor and friend."

EMC, which eventually became Massachusetts's largest technology company and today has more than 40,000 employees, was started in 1979 by Egan and his friend and college roommate, Roger Marino. The two initially sold office furniture in order to raise money to build the company with only a handful of employees.

Egan served as EMC's CEO until 1992 and as chairman of the board until 2001. When he retired, Egan was appointed by George Bush to serve as US Ambassador to Ireland.

The company initially manufactured memory boards then developed and began selling enterprise-class, networked data storage systems. Over the past decade, EMC has added disk storage arrays for small and medium-sized businesses to its portfolio of products, including the Clariion line of arrays, which EMC acquired along with Data General in 1999.

More recently, it has shifted its business direction to include software and services, though it remains the world's largest distributor of external data storage systems.

"Dick Egan stands as one of America's greatest entrepreneurs," said Michael C. Ruettgers, retired EMC chairman and CEO.

Egan earned a master of science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and later joined MIT's Draper Laboratory as part of the team that developed the Apollo Guidance Computer, which provided real-time control for the Apollo spacecraft that carried astronauts to the moon. Egan also worked with Lockheed Aircraft and Intel in developing technology.

Egan was a leader in numerous educational, business and technology groups, serving as director of the Massachusetts High Technology Council and Business Roundtable, director of the New York Stock Exchange Advisory Board, and founder of the Hopkinton Technology for Education Foundation in Hopkinton, Mass., where EMC is based.

"Few business leaders in any industry or any generation had the impact that Dick Egan had, from starting a company that would become a Fortune 200 global powerhouse to employing tens of thousands of people to equipping schools with modern computers so the children of the community could learn on new technology," William J. Teuber, EMC's vice chairman said in a statement.