A short tribute to Seymour Cray

This talk was given in a general session of the Fall 1996
Cray User Group (CUG) meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina.

by Gary Jensen


Seymour Cray

Seymour Cray

I am happy to have this opportunity to say a few words about Seymour Cray.

We all know he built supercomputers. We know he started companies and created opportunities for people like us to have jobs and careers--we are living testament to that fact. And we know he contributed to making life better for everyone through the use and application of his technology. I think he ranks right up there with the best of them: Einstein, Edison, and Leonardo. The effects of his work extend into our everyday lives; some examples are relative peace, car designs, airplanes, medicine, chemicals, and weapons.

Up until 1993, Seymour was an icon to me, someone for whom I held great respect. Then I had the chance to work with him on the CRAY-3 project. So I hope I am not too bold in talking about him.

Let me tell you about the man I knew.

Seymour had great respect for the work of this users' group, and gave us a lot of credit for helping Cray Research improve things. He once told me that he wanted me to set up a user group for CRAY-3 customers.

He often walked around with a candy bar in his mouth, hands full of other things. I picture him more as a professor with lots of grad students around him. He inspired people and made them feel good. He wrote down everything in books, and later transcribed them onto his Mac. He had a fantastic memory. He was a good listener and rarely wrong in remembering what you said.

... One day I was taking a friend from Trondheim, Norway, to visit Cray Computer Corporation in Colorado Springs. Seymour pulled into the parking lot while my friend Christian and I were taking some pictures. When the three of us met there in front of the building, Seymour said to Christian, "I know you--you were at a talk I gave in London some years ago." Of course he was right, and it made my friend's day that Seymour remembered him.

Seymour thought way ahead. In order to work out the details of the CRAY-4 design, he had to make decisions about the CRAY-5 and -6. He had to develop a lot of enabling technology, such as a 500 MhZ tester for his new chips. I have heard that he had more patents for packaging and refrigeration than for computing.

In the last several years his life became more public, and he visited with potential customers and shareholders. At the shareholder meeting I went to, he was cool, calm, and humorous while being asked hard questions.

And when he reevaluated his position in the marketplace and was starting over, he was struck down while driving his Jeep Cherokee on the freeway in Colorado Springs. His car was hit on one rear corner, spun around counterclockwise several times, then rolled over three times. The accident was caused by someone in a hurry to get to the airport. And while we have to accept that Seymour is gone, it seems like such a strange end to the life of such a man ... such a waste.

I read that his ashes were scattered at some special place in the Rocky Mountains that he loved as a hiker. I guess all we can do is to embrace and enjoy the heritage that he leaves us. All I can do now is to say good bye, Seymour, and thanks.

"He inspired people and made them feel good."

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