Amherst Magazine

George A. Grover '51

Deceased April 5, 2014

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50th Reunion book entry

In Memory 

My father, George A. Grover ’51, died April 5 in Greenfield of pneumonia. He was 84. My dad was a gentle and cerebral man. I think back fondly on going to his Amherst reunions as a boy, which ultimately led me to Amherst as well.

My dad loved his time at Amherst. At his 50th reunion he wrote, “For the boy that was me, coming to Amherst from Ottawa, Illinois, was the beginning of a time of awakening and a kind of liberation both personal and intellectual.… My Amherst years stand out as on the whole one of the peak periods of my life, a long episode of almost enchantment.”

After Amherst, when computers used vacuum tubes and were used by government and a handful of large corporations, he joined IBM, and through one of my uncles met my mother at a party in New York City. In the ’60s he was the principal architect of IBM’s 360 operating system, which in its day reigned supreme. He spent his last professional decades at IBM’s research lab.

While he was an accomplished mathematician and a world-class systems architect and computer scientist, what would first strike any visitor was his library of operas and books on bookshelves and in piles throughout his house. At Amherst my father liked English best and later loved to write and read poetry.

The last several years, however, were terrible, because, while the warm and gentle soul was always there, the keen and engaged mind slipped away. While his final death hurt, it many ways it was a blessing. Now he is at peace.

I count myself lucky he was my father. The world is poorer without George Grover. He leaves five children: Gavin, Wendy, Christopher, Margot and me and nine grandchildren.

Eric Grover ’79

50th Reunion

51 George Grover.jpgLooking forward with heart-felt pleasure towards seeing many of you again, I find myself reflecting on what has often seemed to me to be involved when two of us meet at reunions:

There is a kind of spontaneous exchange between 4 persons-two boys at Amherst existing still and two men who- through hours and days spanning two marathons of years­ they have become.

For the boy that was me, coming to Amherst from Ottawa, Illinois, was the beginning of a time of awakening and a kind of liberation both personal and intellectual.

History was taught conceptually rather than factually, so different from my high school experience as to be almost another subject. The magic of calculus was unrolled by the wonderful Robert Breusch, and at the same time challenged me so that I only finally felt satisfied with my understanding of the fundamental concepts in the graduate school of mathematics at NYU years later.

But it was the English department, whose subject I minored in, which most fascinated and over-awed me, starting with English I-II-which pretty much over-awed everyone I've ever discussed the matter with-followed by practical teaching of the concepts and methods of the New Criticism.To Professors Brower, Barber, Craig, and Gibson-all of whom I took courses with-and to Professor Baird with whom I did not (but am currently enjoying and do recommend his book of essays "The Most of It"-obtainable from the college), I owe a lifetime of critical reading and musing-as critical, at least, as I can make it.

And beyond the interesting courses and teachers, there was this new world of intellectually interesting fellow students everywhere...and so many good new friends...all on our own (at last), living, talking, partying, thinking, arguing, banding together in this campus that was a life unto itself-a place, a mode, and a time separate from the world, the past, the future, spending our currency of youth all in a whirlwind.

There were some negatives. Not all of the teachers were so swift. I sometimes drank a cup too far (albeit generally with a lot of very good company). And most lamentably, though I was a serious student l didn't give my all to my studies. I regret this now, but, a more difficult matter is that, seeing it even as it happened, I regretted it then.

Nonetheless, though each life phase has its pluses and minuses, my Amherst years stand out as on the whole one of the peak periods of my life, a long episode of almost enchantment. I came with high expectations and left for the "real" world with some reluctance.

After graduating, initially took a job with a technical publishing company in New York City in a simplistic algebraic effort to combine my interests in physics and English. But the essence of the result was neither rather than both.

Abruptly, in 1954, I had a stroke of fortune. A blind ad (employment agency) in the New York Times seeking mathematicians turned out to be a new field that I had never heard of-called "programming"-which was related to solving problems one electronic computers. The company, with which I began a product research and development career of 40 years, was IBM.

Working with computers in IBM had the most appealing advantage of combining theoretical and scientific interests which resembled an academic environment with the practical advantages of being in a business organization, particularly one which grew with fabulous success for many, many years.

From the outset I found computer programming fascinating, powerful, creative, incredibly complex, and fun. The first program I ever wrote was a logical model which simulated airports for United Air Lines. The hands on designing, programming, and testing activities during these early years constituted one of the most satisfying segments of my career.

Within a few years, I managed the development of an operating system for IBM's then largest super computer. Then in the early 60's I managed a small group responsible for the design of all IBM software for a new family of computers-the IBM 36Q-which replaced our entire existing product line of the time. (This was later termed in the press the "You bet your company strategy, which fortunately came off).

This job carried with it a high level of both responsibility and pressure, particularly in the light of a huge shortage of programmers. In the year I held the post I was unable to find a satisfactory solution to this problem, as had been my predecessor and as was my successor.

Nonetheless, it was a bitter disappointment, and this was definitely my low point in the 40 year span with IBM. I next went to Australia for 2 years (great living experience for self and family) to start up IBM's first scientific computing center there; and then re­ turned and held a variety of technology oriented staff positions, and gradually got kind of bored.

In the mid 70's this growing sense of vocational discontent became complemented by domestic difficulties. I entered into a marital separation which in time led to divorce. Then at just this point of life problems on two fronts, I reached for and experienced a kind of turnaround in both directions. My relationships with my 5 children—3 then in college and 2 still younger—did not entirely escape the stresses of the marriage breakup, but still on the whole deepened and became still more valuable, more permanent than ever. And I reconsidered what I wanted from my career and decided to get out of its managerial, administrative, and business planning aspects, and focus entirely on the scientific and technical interests which had so attracted me in the early years.

This was a challenging change for me to make as it required a great deal of learning of some of the new technologies which had been growing explosively.  I started by doing design work on the architecture of IBM's then proprietary computer network system, and two years later joined IBM's Research Division in Yorktown Heights, NY. There I worked on research associated with advanced and Computer Science has been and is an attractive field to do research in.

It is not that the years with IBM and computers have all been an idyll...l've encountered my share of struggles and bumps along the road.  But in essence this vocational choice was for me a very lucky one, providing a stimulating and engrossing career at a perfect time, the dawn of the computer age.

Retirement has provided the opportunity to explore more deeply some other quite different interests. I have spent a fair amount of time writing poetry, a lot of time reading all sorts of things, a fair amount of time body board surfing in deep waves in Long Is­ land and Puerto Escondito and lxtapa, Mexico, and thought a lot and written some in a new field called cognitive neuroscience­ the use of the concepts of computer science in the study of the information processing of the human brain. And I spend more time with my grandchildren, and pleasant time that is.

Nonetheless I am still in pursuit of more choose pretty much the same vocational path at every major fork in the road. However if I had, say, five extra lives I'd also like to spend them by choosing the other directions, the ones not taken:

Thus, I’d like to have tried graduate school in English rather than mathematics. In fact, my original notion was to choose graduate work in either English or physics, and in still another life I'd like to have also pursued physics.  And having worked as a newspaper re­ porter during both high school and college summers, I’d opt also for a career in journalism.

FAMILY: As to progeny:  Eric, Amherst '79, is a vice president of Intrinsic, a high tech U. K. startup company which develops automation software. Some of you might remember him as a Class bartender at our 25th. Gavin, a lawyer, is a partner In Morrison & Foerster, San Francisco, where he is responsible for directing the part of the firm that deals with corporate mergers and acquisitions, and IPO's. Wendy directs public relations for all online banking operations of Wells Fargo. Christopher, a doctor, is also in San Francisco. The only one of my five children not in the Bay area is Margot, my youngest, who does creative planning for Merkley Newman & Hardy, a New York advertising agency.

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