Werner Dettwiler, BSc’59

Werner DettwilerIn September 2013, the BC high‑technology sector lost one of its pioneers. Werner (Vern) Dettwiler died suddenly at the age of 78 in Switzerland, where he had been living with his wife, Cecile. Vern was hired as the fifth employee of the fledgling UBC Computing Centre. That first computer (only the second in the province) had a 34‑kilobyte memory and was so large that it was delivered in a moving van. Between 1957 and 1968, UBC used five different mainframe computers. Vern witnessed amazing changes during his working life, as computers kept getting faster and developing more capacity: Resisters replaced tubes, printed circuit boards replaced individually soldered circuits and were in turn replaced by microchips. Vern eventually became head of New Projects at UBC, a job he loved for its novelty and challenge. His drive and enthusiasm lead Vern to team up to start MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) in 1969, a high‑level computing firm supplying complete systems: hardware and software. He was involved in creating satellite receiving stations, weather prediction programs, and robotics (such as the Canadarm on the US space craft); the Canadian Police Information System; and air traffic control systems. MDA, which started with a handful of men working part‑time from the corner of a basement, has grown to become an internationally recognized leader with more than 4,800 employees. Vern was on the executive of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He served for two terms on the Canada Standards Council and was involved with the Swiss Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Vern loved music, flying, trains, walking in the Alps, and his family. Vern is survived by his wife, Cecile, BA’78; daughters Pamela, BSc’86, and Sarah, BA’86; and granddaughter Katherine.

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