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January 04, 2016

Accident claims WRQ founder Doug Walker

DougWalker profileDoug Walker, the man whose brilliance and energy helped found the 3000 community's largest connectivity vendor WRQ, died over this past holiday weekend in an accident on a Washington state snowshoe trail on Granite Mountain. Walker, 64, is the first 3000 community member of wide renown to pass away by way of accidental death.

In the early 1980s when Walker — along with Mike Richer and Marty Quinn, the other two WRQ initials — joined forces with co-founder George Hubman, minicomputer access required hardware terminals. The advent of the personal computer had the potential to expand that access. The WRQ purple boxes carrying a manual and floppy disks for PC2622, software named after the HP 3000 terminal the product emulated, became a fixture in HP 3000 shops by the mid-1980s.

Walker was reported missing December 31 while snowshoeing on Granite Mountain. Search-and-rescue volunteers found his body the next day. The Seattle Times reported that Walker had been hiking with friends when winds intensified.

His companions decided to turn back and wait for Walker, who continued climbing. He likely was caught in an avalanche, according to the King County Sheriff’s Office.

“He has done this easily 200 times, he just does it for exercise,” said Karen Daubert, executive director of the Washington Trails Association and a close friend who has climbed the same route with Walker. “I have been up several times with Doug, including in winter.”

Close friends and partners expressed dismay at the loss of a man who'd devoted his life to philanthropy and mentoring after retiring from WRQ.

"Doug's death came as a shock and is a tragedy," said Hubman, who led the company's marketing and sales before retiring late in the 1990s. "It goes without saying that Doug was a genius. I often joked that if anyone could write a program that required no memory and no time to execute, it would be Doug."

Hubman said the success WRQ achieved — it was the largest single vendor of 3000-related software by seat installs, and was selling $100 million in software yearly when he retired — was put to good use in humanitarian causes that Walker continued to support.

Doug was a perfectionist and both demanded and inspired perfection. This was the quality that set our products apart from the competition and made my job so easy. In spite of his being demanding he was committed to a work environment that took into account the needs of our colleagues and their families. 

I last saw Doug about a year and a half ago.  We had lunch shortly after he had hip replacement surgery.  He was anxious to get back to his first love, hiking and climbing. Doug, and his wife Maggie, will be remembered for the wide range of causes they supported.

Walker was at the White House two weeks ago to discuss private philanthropy to boost access to the outdoors for kids, according to the Times report. A quote from US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Walker was fond of talking as he hiked with her, ranging from Civil War history (he was a graduate of Vanderbilt) to puzzles in math (his degree) as well as Shakespeare trivia. In that last category, Abby and I saw his passion firsthand in 1993.

Walker had organized a small outing to see King Lear at Stratford-upon-Avon that summer, after a 3000 conference in Birmingham. Before the curtain rose on the show, he'd purchased a copy of the play in the gift shop and was reading it quickly, carrying the book into the theatre. Later, he'd located the Issac Asimov guide to Shakespeare and made it a gift to several of us in the party.

Birket Foster was a close ally of WRQ's, a leading reseller for the company in the Canadian market, as well as integrating its products in customer sites around the world.

"Doug was a brilliant scholar," Foster said. "He was humble and had a southern drawl, one that made him seem like one of the guys, even though he was the leader. Doug was a gentleman and was liked by all his colleagues and staff. Doug was the ultimate outdoorsman, and he hiked, climbed and kayaked with passion."

Doug will be missed by many people, myself included. I had the privilege of working with him closely back in the hay day of Reflection, MBFoster sold millions of dollars of Reflection. MBFoster ran a data communications conference for our customers at Carleton University where multiplexors, modems, and Reflection Scripts were used. We located IMACS (Which we had purchased from David Dummer) in the same complex as WRQ on Lake Union and  Doug helped integrate DataExpress to use Host initiated Reflection based file transfer. In another project, team member, Larry Boyd, wrote PCPoll for me for use by a telecommunications manufacturer to poll the plants for orders using Reflection scripts and dialup modems.

Kevin Klustner was the COO of WRQ while Walker was with the company. He noted that passion was at Walker's heart even as he pursued the pastime that led to his demise.

"I was entranced by his broad and deep intellect," Klustner said. "And after 20-plus interviews, I had a good feel for the company he was building. So Maryann and I moved from California to Seattle for WRQ. Throughout my 11 years there, I learned that great companies can be built through thoughtfulness, empathy, inter-personal skills and a disdain for group-think."

Doug taught me that the single greatest asset of a company is its employees. And he proved that everyday with his commitment to spending time with everyone, talking about business, the Civil War, mountain climbing, anything history.

He engaged all of us. We are all lucky to have been influenced by this Renaissance man. One of his many legacies is the community of WRQ'ers who have made friendships, marriages, children, businesses and life experiences through the company that he, Craig, George, Mike and Marty built. Doug, you passed doing something you passionately loved. May we all learn from that.

In our 2005 interview with Walker, as he retired from WRQ, he said "I’m especially interested in the interplay between computing and biotech. We’ve cracked the genome and people are talking about a lot of sci-fi stuff with respect to biotech, but it’s really a compute-bound problem." We asked him about the fate of specialized computer environments in the years to come.

Must it all become Windows and Linux-based?

Single integrated monolithic systems are not the way of the future. The only way is to have differentiation, but it has to be based on some very common interfaces. In that sense, there is a role for things like MPE or VMS. Lots of forms of life have differentiation, but they all seem to have a cell structure. A common programming system, like DNA. You can have differentiation so long as you have integration.

You seem to have a biology example ready for lots of these points.

Biological programming has been going on a few million years longer than software programming. I’m just impressed by how much there is to learn there.

08:42 PM in Newsmakers | Permalink

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