SHARE Remembers Dick Hitt, 1938-2015

By Dan O'Brien

Dick Hitt 1976In every great story, there's a turning point. One moment, it seems all will be lost; the next, a hero has saved the day.

So goes the history of the mainframe. When System 360 was first introduced, the software that ran on it was ungainly and slow. It's possible IBM would have given up on the platform entirely if not for the work of the small team that developed HASP--the software that helped simplify and speed up the spooling process on System 360 and laid the foundation for JES2.

An integral member of that team was Dick Hitt, a longtime IBM employee and SHARE volunteer, who enhanced and extended the code for the job execution interface and HASP initialization.  Hitt passed away October 8 in Mountain View, California. He was 77.

Hitt paid his own way to the 1968 SHARE meeting in Atlantic City specifically so he could meet Bob Crabtree and Tom Simpson, who were colleagues of his friend Bob Ray. The three men were all working on HASP, which had become a SHARE project about six months before at the spring meeting in Houston. Not long after, Hitt transferred to the HASP group and assumed responsibility for the code Simpson had been working on.

Hitt's contributions to HASP, including its primary interfaces, led to the development of the system interfaces in JES2, Crabtree said. "He also played a major role in the development of the Multi-Access Spool version of JES2," he said. "By then the JES2 and JES3 groups had been integrated and there were about 100 people in the combined development organization."

Hitt was incredibly responsive and connected to the rest of the team back at IBM to a degree that was truly remarkable in the time before email, cell phones, and instant messaging, said Liz Kaufman, who was a member of the HASP project in the early '70s.

"Dick was always available, interested, willing to help, and delivered on every commitment," she said. "He was deeply knowledgeable, with a quick grasp of the issues and an unquenchable curiosity."

Hitt was a vibrant, active member at SHARE events throughout the '60s and '70s, where he helped start the tradition of spirited sing-alongs. At the SHARE meeting in Atlantic City where he first met Crabtree and Simpson, Hitt found an unlocked piano and began to play. He started taking requests from other SHARE representatives, and soon a full-blown sing-along began. One person did some quick lyric rewriting, which led to the instant SHARE classic, "HASP-y Days are Here Again."

That song was part of a medley that included other memorable rewrites such as "Ain't HASP Neat" to the tune of "Ain't She Sweet" and "HASP Belongs to Everyone" to the tune of "The Best Things in Life are Free." (There's a lesser known medley that includes "Hey Hasp," a play on the Beatles song "Hey Jude.") For years, Hitt played the Model 88 piano, providing the enthusiastic music that accompanied the voices on Thursday nights. The sing-alongs have become so entrenched in SHARE tradition that there was even a session devoted to their history at SHARE in Orlando this summer.

"The tradition lasted for many years, evolving along the way, and I think it’s fair to say that it brought some fun into a week of heavy issues and tough technology discussions that went many hours from early morning to late in the day, and often evening," Kaufman said.

In the early '80s, Hitt left IBM for a position with Amdahl, where he earned accolades for his work as a microcode coder. He later worked at UTC Global as a developer.

It will come as no surprise to those who knew Hitt and his powerful intelligence that he was also a lifelong member of Mensa, the organization for people with IQs that fall in the upper two percent of the population. When he wasn't working, he was an avid hiker who enjoyed music and reading.

The entire SHARE community mourns the loss of Hitt. His contributions to the evolution of the mainframe were pivotal in making it the critical driver of progress it is today. He will be sorely missed. Please leave your memories and tributes to Hitt in the comments.

1 Comment
1 Like

Thank You!

November 17, 2015 03:54 PM by Peter Conlin

I never had the honor (or pleasure, as I'm sure it would have been) of meeting Dick Witt (at least not at presentations, or, to the best of my recollection, SCIDs.)

I used his contributions to make my life incredibly easier as a student & later, the multi-access-spool at the City of Chicago.

That the JES2 structure is so reliable, robust & that its basic structure has changed so little is an incredible testament to those who laid its foundation.

As a grad student in Sociology using SPSS in the late 70's, a systems programmer answered my question when I asked why some jobs ran faster than others.  With his simple explanation of initiators, classes & priority (users were able to display active, queues, etc.)  I found specifying 0 (or minimal as appropriate) resources) raised my priority significantly above the class defaults, not only getting me through faster, but allowing time for the local Happy Hours in the Rogers Park section of Chicago.  (In the Sysprog(J. Kol...)'s defense , he'd only mentioned ageing as a component of priority.) 

Thanks again Mr. Hitt & hope to finally hoist one together in the next/after life.  My treat, I owe you.

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