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RADM Grace Murray Hopper

Those of us who have been privileged to know Grace Murray Hopper seem to have a compulsion to write something about her. This is my small contribution, taken from my stash of old papers and memorabilia.

It's my recollection (which I'm sure will be corrected if in error) that Grace was the first woman to hold Unrestricted Line Flag Rank in the U.S. Navy.

Oldest Active U.S. Officer Retires • Computer Pioneer

BOSTON, Thursday, August 14, 1986 - Rear Adm. Grace [Murray] Hopper, the nation's oldest active military officer and co-inventor of the widely used computer language COBOL, retired today.

Hopper, nicknamed "Grand Old Lady of Software" and "Amazing Grace", appeared to be making a reluctant exit as she was honored on the USS Constitution, the Navy's oldest commissioned warship.

"I regret leaving active duty," she told a crowd of 275 on the deck of "Old Ironsides". "Do you realize I'm the last of the World War II WAVES to leave active duty?"

The Women's Auxiliary Volunteer Emergency Service was discontinued as a special organization after World War II.

Normal retirement age for a military officer is 62, but Hopper has remained on active duty under a procedure approved by Congress that allows yearly extensions.

"She's challenged at every turn the dictates of mindless bureaucracy," Navy Secretary John Lehman said as he award her the Defense Department's highest Honor, the Defense Distinguished Service Medal. He recalled that she once "gave me a stern lecture on computers," the "roughest wire brushing I've had since I got this job."

Hopper's retirement ceremony, described as the grandest ever held on the old ship, featured a band, a bouquet of 43 roses - one for each year of her Navy career - and seamen scampering up rigging to salute the diminutive admiral.

Her friends describe Hopper as a vigorous, tireless, occasionally contrary woman who smokes unfiltered cigarettes and has a four-page resume of awards, honorary degrees and professional activities.

"The only phrase I've ever disliked is, 'Why, we've always done it that way.'" she said. "I always tell young people, 'Go ahead and do it. You can always apologize later.'"

She joined the Naval Reserve in December 1943, armed with a Ph.D. from Yale University, a decade as a mathematics professor at Vassar College and midshipman training at Smith college.

She later reported to duty in the basement of a laboratory at Harvard University, where she learned to program the first large-scale electronic computer.

She remained in the Naval Reserve after the war and joined a company that was building the Univac I, the first commercial large-scale electronic computer. the company later merged into the Sperry Corp.

At Sperry, Hopper programmed computers to design their own programs. She also worked on an idea that spawned COBOL, a programming language that changed computers from a tool for mathematics to a tool for businesses. In 1966, she retired from the Naval Reserve, but she was recalled less than a year later.

Source: The Associated Press. Copyright © 1986 Associated Press.

World-Wide COBOL Prayer

Our Mother, who art in Pentagon,
Grace Hopper be thy name.
Thy audit come, World Wide will be done
In COBOL as it is in Standard.
Spare us this day our waily Fed,
And give us our passes
As we forgive those which fail against us,
And lead us not into validation
But deliver us from JTSA. Amen!

Source: Anonymous

USS Hopper • DDG70

The guided missile destroyer USS Hopper, DDG 70, christened on 6 January 1996 and commissioned on 6 September 1997, was named for Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, whose pioneering spirit in the field of computer technology led the Navy into the age of computers. Grace died on 1 January 1992.

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