Amazing Grace

As with many mornings, I woke a little after 5 a.m. and began working. When I turned on the computer, the Google page lit up with something that referred to the age of 107. I had a hard time thinking about what Google might have been referring to with today’s “Doodle,” as they call it.

So, I had to start looking into what it was all about and well, it was eye-opening.

It was about a little old woman who passed away on New Years’ Day in 1992 at the age of 85. She was, however, not just any little old lady. She was Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, a woman who served in the Navy for more than 44 years and was almost single-handedly responsible for the computer languages we use every day. She has a naval vessel named in her honor, the USS Hopper DDG-70, as well as the Cray XE5 supercomputer in use at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC).

Nicknamed “Amazing Grace,” Hopper was born 107 years ago today.

Hopper had an amazing academic background. Vassar rejected her for early admittance at the age of 16 but allowed her entrance the following year. She graduated in 1928 with a bachelor’s degree in math and physics. She later completed her master’s at Yale in 1930. She went on to earn her Ph.D. from Yale four years later. While completing her doctorate, she returned to Vassar as faculty to teach mathematics.

In 1943, Hopper was sworn into the naval reserves. She graduated at the top of her class in 1944 and her first assignment as a lieutenant junior grade was to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University. The Navy assigned her to work on the Mark I computer, also known as the IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC).

During her time with the Navy, her claim to fame was the development of English-based computer language. She led a committee that was instrumental in perfecting COBOL, an acronym for common business-oriented language.

Hopper retired from the Navy and they called her back – twice. Her work was so important, Rep. Philip Crane (R-IL) worked on a joint resolution in the House of Representatives to allow her to remain on active duty with a promotion to commodore by special Presidential appointment. Hopper continued in naval service by way of special approval of Congress. She finally had to retire in 1986 and when she did, she was the oldest active duty commissioned officer in the service at the age of 79 years, eight months, and five days.

After retiring from the Navy, she went to work for Digital Equipment Corporation. She worked for the company as a goodwill ambassador until her death.

She was sharp throughout her life and proved to have a great sense of humor. In the late 1980’s, she gave Dave Letterman a run for his money in the segment below.

Found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-vcErOPofQ.

©2013 J. Clark

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