Stan Whitlock 1948-2018

I hate writing these, but as the years go on there will be more.

Stan Whitlock passed away yesterday (September 3, 2018) a mere six weeks after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that had spread to his neck. He was 70 years old. Many of you may not know Stan’s name, but if you’re reading this blog Stan has undoubtedly touched your Fortran life. Stan joined Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) in 1976, to work on the TOPS-10 (DECsystem-10) FORTRAN compiler. He had previously been a COBOL programmer for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. By the time I met Stan in 1979, he was leading the VAX APL project. Somewhere in the mid 1980s, he returned to Fortran, joining the DEC Fortran 90 project, and eventually he ended up being the project lead. In the Intel years he gained the title “Fortran Architect”, which meant that he helped explain Fortran to other teams at Intel what Fortran required and (re)designed directive syntax so that Fortran could use it.

For a short time, Stan managed the Fortran team at Intel, but he hated being a manager and was pleased when yet-another-reorganization meant that someone else would have that thankless task. That left Stan to do what he did so well, keeping his team happy and (relatively) insulated from the slings and arrows from upper management. Everybody loved Stan, and his team meetings were a source of awe among other teams. “Why is everyone always laughing during the Fortran meetings? May I sit in?” Even during the bleak times through the various companies, the Fortran team hung together and got stuff done.

Stan also became our standards representative, and for many years was both Secretary for J3 and also headed the Interpretations subgroup. Stan’s actions as Secretary were legendary – he would pre-write the minutes of the US TAG meetings (these were short meetings to formulate the official US position on certain standards activity), and we’d joke that he had already written vote results before they happened! Stan is also responsible for my joining the standards committee. He wanted an alternate and I had the advantage of working for a different organization, making the expense of sending two representatives acceptable to management. (Nowadays, Intel often sends three people from the same group.)

One of Stan’s many skills was deftly handling upper management. Shortly after we joined Intel, one of the senior Intel managers, looking through the Compaq Fortran documentation, encountered the syntax “!DEC$”, the prefix for directives in our compiler (non-standard statements that look like comments.) ‘”DEC” has to go!’, the manager decreed, ‘we can’t have anything DEC-related in Intel’s compiler!’ ‘Oh, no!’, Stan replied, ‘that stands for “Directive Enhanced Compilation”!’ And so it was allowed to remain.

Outside of work, music was Stan’s passion. He played trumpet in numerous bands, including the New England Brass Band, and he sang in the Spit Brook Singers (aka SpitTunes), an employee musical group at our DEC site in Nashua. He and his wife Carolyn also liked to travel, though Stan didn’t deal well with long airplane flights and enjoyed cruising where he could just sit and relax.

Stan and I both took advantage of the same early retirement package in 2016, along with two other members of the Intel Fortran team. In retirement, Stan increased his musical activities and he and his wife enjoyed seeing their grandchildren from their son David, who now lived in Oregon. (Daughter Jen still lives in New Hampshire.) I’d see him occasionally around the area, and at a couple of get-togethers that the Intel Fortran team arranged. (Stan had been in charge of these while at Intel.) In June I saw him at the “Geezers’ Reunion” scheduled just before the standards meeting in Berkeley, California. I noticed that Stan was not his usual, jovial self – it was due to the severe headaches he was having whose cause was then unknown. A few weeks after returning home, the pain increased, and he started to fall, so he reluctantly agreed to get checked out at the hospital. The cancer diagnosis was a shock to everyone, especially as there were no symptoms from the pancreas involvement.

His illness progressed quickly, and he was moved to a local hospice facility in late August. In an email he sent to me, he called it “Worst retirement plan ever!” I visited him in his last week, though he was mostly sleeping at that time. Stan’s decline was faster than the doctors believed, and he passed away in his sleep, surrounded by his family, yesterday afternoon.

For many years at Intel, my cubicle was next to Stan’s, and we’d often have discussions about issues I was seeing from customers and what the team could do to help. Even though he had a long list of tasks to be implemented, and limited resources, Stan often found room in the schedule for some of the things I said were important. He was always willing to listen and, perhaps more than most anyone I worked with, perfectly embodied the DEC philosophy of “Do the right thing.” Stan was a strong mentor to both new employees and also new members of the standards committee, and anyone who came to work for or with him was fortunate indeed. We will all miss him greatly.

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