On Thursday July 11, 2019, Werner Buchholz, a computer science pioneer, passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 96. Werner was born on October 24, 1922, in Detmold, Germany. The son of a Jewish leather merchant, Werner just after turning 16 was sent by his parents to the safety of England before the onset of World War II. Like with Japanese Americans, England rounded up these Jewish teenagers and put them in detention camps. His parents, Julius and Elsa, were killed in concentration camps. Werner was transferred to another detention camp in Canada where, after some time, members of the Toronto Jewish community sponsored him to attend the University of Toronto. After receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees there, he earned his PhD in electrical engineering at Caltech.
IBM hired him in 1949 to work in Poughkeepsie, NY, at the very beginning of their commercial computer development. There they replaced punched card electronic computing with the much faster magnetic tape process for storing large files. Werner participated in a new government project for the Korean War that led to the IBM 701 and 702 computers. They next developed the “supercomputer” called Stretch, taking advantage of the change from vacuum tubes to transistor technology. This is when these computer designers began being known as system architects. In 1956, Werner coined the term “byte” to denote a small group of bits, but he never thought this much of an accomplishment. He continued to work at IBM until retiring in 1990.
Werner married Anna Frances Odor, a Kentucky-born, Methodist-turned-Quaker, professor of German at Vassar College, in 1952. With Werner’s highly-engaged support, Ann Buchholz went on to become a local community leader, one of the first Democratic women elected to high office in this relatively conservative area of New York. They had two sons together, John who died in a car crash in 1975, and Sham Rang Singh Khalsa who is an emergency physician in Massachusetts. Werner was preceded in death by Ann in 2007. He is also survived by two grandchildren, Gurushabd Khalsa and Sarang Khalsa, who reside in the Seattle area.
Werner asked that there be no funeral services. He asked that, instead of flowers, for those who wish to honor him in death, that gifts can be sent to Poughkeepsie Monthly Meeting of Friends, 249 Hooker Avenue, Poughkeepsie, NY, 12603.
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