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Morton Astrahan

Don Chamberlin: Morton was a real unusual guy. I first met Morton when I transferred to California along with Ray Boyce and Frank King, Vera Watson, and some other people, in 1973. This was a large infusion of new people into the environment at San Jose, which had a project underway, and that project of course was impacted by the arrival of the newcomers, and different people had different attitudes about that. The term "Yorktown Mafia" is indicative of one of the attitudes; Morton never used that term. Morton's attitude toward newcomers was, "Welcome to California. How can I make you guys feel at home?" Since not everybody felt that way, it was real nice to have Morton around, because Morton knew the ropes and he was the guy who helped us find places to live and places to shop and things to do at night. He was real nice that way, to make us feel like we were welcome by the natives. I say that although I'm a native of San Jose.

Morton had a cabin up in the mountains that he called Serendipity. Serendipity, as you know, means a kind of a surprising good outcome. I never figured out exactly why Morton's cabin was called Serendipity, but that cabin was an important thing to Morton, and one of the things that he did was to invite all of the newcomers from New York, one at a time, up to his mountain on the weekends. So we went up there and took our young daughter and it was a beautiful place and Morton really enjoyed sharing it with people. Morton claimed that he had a muse that lived in Serendipity and whenever there was some kind of technical problem that came up in our project that had everybody scratching their head, Morton would tend to disappear for several days at a time and would go up and consult his muse. A lot of times he'd come back and he'd have the problem solved. I thought that was pretty nice. When Morton disappeared, I always looked forward to what he'd have to say when he came back.

One of the things about Morton was he didn't really like to argue, and just about everybody else in the project liked to argue a lot [laughter], so this made Morton kind of unique. Something that would happen a lot of the time was everybody would have meetings all week and do a lot of shouting over some technical issue, and by the time the dust sort of cleared, here would be Morton, who hadn't come to the meeting and sat in his office and wrote code all week, and he'd have the problem solved. He was real productive and real fast that way. He got a lot done with kind of a minimum amount of heat and political energy.

Another thing that I remember about Morton was his courage. Morton had a lot of health problems: he had Parkinson's Disease and he had crippling arthritis so he couldn't stand up straight and I think he was real uncomfortable a lot of the time. But I never heard Morton mention that a single time to anybody and it never limited any of his activities. You know, Morton was always first in line and had more energy than anyone else. It must have been very uncomfortable for him and taken a lot of courage to do that. But, you know, Morton was always kind of right out there carrying more than his share.

Morton retired from IBM sometime in the mid 1980's - I don't recall the exact date - and he died shortly after that - probably 1986 or thereabouts.

Morton is somebody who I remember for his courage and friendship and constructive attitude. If you had something you needed done without a lot of fooling around, then Morton was the guy you wanted to get in touch with.

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