One of Judith Ference Olson‘s earliest memories of her father, Alexander Ference, was of going to see him at work at his office in Allegheny Center on the North Side.
It wasn’t exactly comfortable.
“The room was big and freezing cold,“ Ms. Olson says, ”but that‘s because in the late 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, computers took up a lot of space and my dad was one of the earliest of what I guess today would be called an ’IT‘ guy. He really was a pioneer in information science.“
Mr. Ference was hired to design computer operating systems for Blue Cross of Western Pennsylvania, now Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, and several other Pittsburgh corporations beginning in the 1950s, when computers were large, sprawling and had a tendency to overheat.
Mr. Ference, a longtime resident of Ross, died of Wednesday complications from a stroke at his home in Sherwood Oaks. He was 86.
He’d majored in psychology at the University of Pittsburgh in 1955, but quickly saw opportunities in the burgeoning field of computers — a job tailor made for a man ”who was totally brilliant. I remember one of his colleagues taking me aside and telling me he‘d never met a man with such a brain,“ Ms. Olson added, noting that her father was at the top of his class at Duquesne University, where he earned a master’s degree in business administration.
With the growth of group health insurance plans after World War II, even the earliest, most cumbersome computers made processing claims and billing much easier, as the business world was quick to discover. Mr. Ference went on to design systems at Copperweld Corp., now known as Fushi Copperweld, and Westinghouse Electric Corp.
And while he never became a household name like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, Mr. Ference possessed the same work ethic, holding down a job during the day and teaching at night at La Roche College, Robert Morris College and Community College of Allegheny County. He also chaired the business division of Allegany College of Maryland, where he taught business and economics.
He still found time to be a caring father to his children, his daughter said, recalling the pride she felt after that visit to the large, cold computer room.
On a recent visit, Ms. Olson, of Franklin Park, said she held up her cell phone to him. ”I said, ‘hey Dad, everything that was in that room was now on my phone,’ and we had to laugh at that.“
Besides his daughter, Mr. Ference is survived by Dolores, his wife of 61 years; another daughter, Lynn Ference of McCandless, and two grandchildren.
Friends may call from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday at Devlin Funeral Home of Cranberry, 2678 Rochester Road, Cranberry. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at Sts. John & Paul Catholic Church at 10 a.m. Monday.
Mackenzie Carpenter, firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1949 or on Twitter @MackenziePG.