, Salem, MA


May 14, 2011

My View: Ken Olsen, a lifetime of science and faith

A public memorial service for the late Ken Olsen will be held at 3:30 p.m. today at Gordon College in Wenham.

These days, a normal routine at work or at home involves computers.

We log on, read an article, compose an email or draft a report. It's hard to imagine (or remember) the days when we didn't use a computer.

And if not for Ken Olsen, the brilliant computer scientist who died this year, we might not be nearly as productive each day as we are.

I think that would please Ken. As a rookie businessman and scientist in 1961, he joined the board of the small Christian liberal arts college where I am currently president. Like his friend, Tom Phillips, who worked at a company called Raytheon, and a then-little-known evangelist named Billy Graham, Ken's involvement on the Gordon College board had a simple purpose: He wanted young scientists to know they didn't have to abandon their faith to be good in their fields.

That was radical stuff, even heretical in some circles at the time, and still is. It's not that Ken Olsen crusaded for the marriage of faith and science, he lived it.

Those of us who knew him admired his talent and propensity to advance technology. But we were also impressed at how his faith spilled over into his life as a devoted family man, a visionary computer scientist and a generous entrepreneur.

He taught Sunday school at Park Street Church in Boston, where he'd become a member during his days as a student at MIT. He gathered men for prayer groups. He insisted throughout his long tenure as the co-founder and CEO of Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) that his employees be treated as he himself wanted to be treated. And he hoped the technology they created together would always serve the common good.

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