Tribute for Vern Watts


It has been over 2 weeks now since we received the sad news of Vern's passing at the lab. I have found myself frequently thinking of my many interactions with him over the years and of the indelible impression he made on me, all his colleagues and the IBM company. As you know, I started working with Vern directly when I joined IMS as the product manager in 1995. One of the greatest privileges in my career was being Vern's manager when he was promoted to become the first Distinguished Engineer in the IBM company. I remember the day of his promotion very well as I got quite choked up when I announced it to the all hands meeting in the cafeteria and remember that Vern was more choked up than I.

It was when I was working with Vern to put together the package for that promotion that I first truly understood the impact that he had on IBM and on the data base industry. One of the things we had to provide in the package was a list of patents. When I spoke with Vern about this he told me that he did not have many patents. When I asked him why, I was not ready for his response. When he did all the ground breaking work which essentially defined what a data base was, software was not recognized by the US patent office as "patentable". We went through the list of his inventions in those pre patent days and I was staggered. Most of the data base fundamentals that we accept as standard today and required in every data base, were first conceived and designed by Vern. It was then that I realized what a pioneer he really was. I appreciated that while easygoing and unassuming, a regular guy, that Vern was a giant in our industry.

As I got to work with Vern then and over the years since I realized that his years of service did not correlate with his enthusiasm. While most of us lose some enthusiasm and energy after many years on the job, Vern didn't seem to suffer the same fate. I can remember many many discussions in his office, about new things he wanted to do in IMS or about new technologies in computer science, Sometimes his enthusiasm was so strong that I felt I was talking to a recent comp sci grad. I was surprised to hear that he decided to retire, but not at all surprised when he showed up in his office the following week as the first Distinguished Engineer Emeritus in the IBM company. It was so clear that right to the end Vern's intellectual curiosity was as strong as it had ever been. He was really an inspiration.

Finally Carol, I regret to say that I am writing this letter because I will not be able to be with you on Saturday for the celebration of Vern's life. I am in Europe as I write this, meeting with customers, promoting IMS and DB2, and trying to keep our business growing. I wish I could be there with you. I had hoped to be able to say a few words on behalf of IBM and all Vern's colleagues in the company. I am deeply saddened by Vern's passing. He was a role model to me and so many others. We will all miss him. My most sincere sympathy to you Carol. Thank you for giving us the chance to celebrate Vern's life. He was truly one of a kind.

Dan Wardman
IBM Silicon Valley Lab Director