Dr. Harvey Gellman, who died on April 23, was one ofCanada’s computer pioneers and most distinguished consultants.
Harvey was important to many people, on many levels. He was important to me as a mentor, coach, advisor, and friend. For me, his legacy is the example he set in business and in life. He never preached, but his views were powerfully communicated by his actions.
With his help, many of us were led to a better understanding of the human challenges we faced. Harvey would listen. He was able to hear new ideas, regardless of how much he might (initially) disagree. He was open to all, giving equal hearing to the custodian and the chairman.
Harvey was fond of saying, “I’m just a simple man.” He recognized on a deep instinctive level that a persuasive message must be simple. He insisted that problems were not really solved until you could provide a simple solution. Harvey didn’t quit, and didn’t let his colleagues quit until they had gone through complexity to reach the simplicity that lies beyond.
The power of simplicity works on multiple levels. In consulting, the dual challenge is to discover the basis for change (by actively listening) and then to lay out a simple path forward – one that is compelling and unambiguous. An effective consultant must do both. Harvey excelled, and helped all of us do better. In computing as well, simple pays big dividends. A simple design for a computer system will be easier to build, document, test, and maintain. Harvey’s “simple” filter dramatically improved a number of weak designs.
Harvey was unfailingly courteous and open. He was also one of the most moral men I have known. He never preached, but the example he set showed a profound respect for other people and their best interests. Ron Gilmore, a mutual colleague in Calgary, tells the following story: “When I face a tough decision, I listen to the little man on my shoulder. He guides me to the right path. His name is Harvey.” Harvey helped many of us discover what was right for us and gave us the strength to stay the course.
Be open to what everyone has to say. Fight through to simplicity. And through it all, show deep respect for everyone in your life. Harvey set an example we struggle to follow. He will be remembered.
A Distinguished Career
Harvey Gellman’s career spanned most of Canada’s computing history. He was involved in purchasing the country’s first computer (made by Ferranti in England circa 1950 for Atomic Energy of Canada), he wrote the first software program run in Canada (on punch-paper tape to help users print from the Ferranti), and he obtained the first doctorate in Canada using theoretical calculations that depended on a computer.
He later founded one of the country’s first computer consulting firms – H.S. Gellman And Co. Ltd. – in Toronto in 1955, helping a great many companies with their computing operations. Subsequent to the sale of H.S. Gellman to De Havilland in 1964, Harvey teamed with Jim Hayward to form yet another prominent consulting firm, Gellman Hayward & Partners, which was eventually acquired by the CGI Group in 1992. Dr. Gellman held the post of senior VP at CGI until retiring in 1998.
Harvey was a founding member of the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS), and served as its president in 1965. He also helped found the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Ontario, holding the post of president in 1968. Among his many honours, he was named International Systems Man of the Year in 1967 by The Association for Systems Management.
Well done, Harvey!