Software gave Waterloo school world reputation
By Tony Reinhart
TORSTAR NEWS SERVICE
KITCHENER - James Wesley (Wes) Graham was a humble computing pioneer who gave the University of Waterloo a worldwide reputation.
"He had enormous influence," said former University of Waterloo president Doug Wright.
"He was a great teacher and a great leader, and did more than any one person to put Waterloo on the map in computing."
Mr. Graham, 67, succumbed to cancer Sunday at his Waterloo home, just three days after he was invested as an officer of the Order of Canada.
In the mid-1960s, Mr. Graham developed breakthrough software that made it possible for all university students - not just the computer whiz kids - to use computers.
In the late '70s, he was believed to be the first to string a group of personal computers together as a local area network, as common to today's offices as chairs and cubicles.
And in the early 1980s, he pioneered the university's spinoff company, starting the first of many off-campus, high-tech ventures.
Not bad for an unassuming kid from Copper Cliff, near Sudbury, who got his first taste of computing while studying math and physics at the University of Toronto in the early 1950s.
After a brief stint as a systems engineer for IBM, Mr. Graham joined the University of Waterloo as an assistant professor in 1959, two years after the university opened.
Slow, unforgiving and locked away from all but an elite few, university computers of the day were anything but practical.
This was a big problem for the university, which wanted to expose more students to computers.
In 1965, Mr. Graham hunkered down with four students and a junior faculty member to create a software system called WATFOR, which made the university's computers much faster and more user-friendly.
Business, industry and government soon adopted it, spreading UW's reputation beyond academic circles.
In the 1970s, Mr. Graham helped design the first computer-studies curriculum for Ontario's high schools.
He also designed an early portable computer and software that could be moved from room to room in a school.
As the university began to turn out top-notch computing experts, many wanted to start their own businesses.
In 1981, Mr. Graham helped three of his former students start Watcom, a company to develop and market educational software.
Other university spinoff companies to follow the Watcom model include Waterloo Maple and Open Text.
In 1994, Watcom was bought by Sybase, the world's sixth largest software company, a deal worth millions to Mr. Graham and his cohorts.
But Mr. Graham wasn't one to flaunt his good fortune.
He could easily have had the spiffiest sports car on the lot, but found comfort in his old full-size van.
Mr. Graham and his wife, from whom he was separated, had six children and seven grandchildren.
He also leaves his companion and her three children.