Obituary: Watts S. Humphrey / Software engineer with five patents, national medal
Watts S. Humphrey receives the National Medal of Technology from President George W. Bush on March 14, 2005, in the East Room of the White House in Washington.
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Watts S. Humphrey was a kid with a learning disability who grew up to write 11 books, hold five U.S. patents and accept the National Technology Medal from the president of the United States.
Mr. Humphrey died at his home in Sarasota, Fla., from cholangio carcinoma, a cancer of the bile ducts in the liver. He was 83.
Mr. Humphrey was born in Battle Creek, Mich., where he failed first grade because he was dyslexic. His father moved the family to Connecticut so that Mr. Humphrey could attend a school there that would address his issues while his father commuted by flying his own seaplane to and from Wall Street.
Mr. Humphrey thrived in his new school and graduated as the valedictorian of his high school class. He enlisted in the Navy at 17 to help fight in World War II, but the war ended before his training was completed. After his enlistment was up, he enrolled in the University of Chicago where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in physics. He earned his master's degree in physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology and then a master's in business administration from the University of Chicago.
He started his career with Sylvania in Boston and then moved to IBM, where he rose through the ranks to become director of development and vice president of technical development. In that job he supervised software development in 15 laboratories that were spread out in seven countries. There were 4,000 software engineers working under him.
At 60, when many people are thinking of retiring, Mr. Humphrey embarked on a new career at Carnegie Mellon University, where he established the Software Process Program that instilled a discipline to software development.
His colleague, Anita Carleton, the director of the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute's Software Engineering Process Management Program, said that before Mr. Humphrey came along, software engineers created programs by coding and testing. He changed the culture of the discipline to develop a more systematic approach to planning, developing and releasing new software.
His work earned him the National Medal of Technology which was presented to him by President George W. Bush in 2005.
He is survived by his wife, daughters Kate Pickman of St. Louis Park, Minn.; Lisa Fish of Edina, Minn.; Sarah Humphrey of Glen Cove, N.Y.; and Erica Jarrett of Libertyville, Ill; and sons Watts Humphrey Jr. of Sarasota, Fla.; Peter Humphrey of Jersey City, N.J.; and Chris Humphrey of Zurich, Switzerland; brother William Humphrey of Auckland, New Zealand; sisters Dorothy Bedell of Wyndmoor, Montgomery County, Ann Swain of Sarasota, Fla., and Patricia Smith of Fox Chapel; and 11 grandchildren.
A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Nov. 13 at St. Michael the Archangel on Siesta Key, Sarasota, Fla.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Department of GI Oncology Research Fund, Massachusetts General Hospital, MGH Development Office, 165 Cambridge St., Suite 600, Boston, MA 02114 or The Forman School, 12 Norfolk Road, Litchfield, CT 06759.
Correction/Clarification: (Published October 31, 2010) Watts S. Humphrey was born in 1927. An incorrect year was given in his obituary Saturday. He was survived by a stepsister, Patricia Smith of Fox Chapel. Her name was omitted.
First Published October 30, 2010 1:05 am