Campus & Community

Former director of computer services, Lewis Law dies, at 77

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Lewis (Lew) Law, 77, former director of computer services for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), died in Belmont on Feb. 14 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for many years.

Law was born and educated in England, graduating with a B.Sc. in physics from the University of Birmingham in 1953. After working with the British Civil Service in Malvern for five years, he and his wife, Margaret, whom he had married in 1957, decided to explore the other side of the Atlantic. Initially, they spent two years in Hamilton, Ontario, where Law worked on radar systems for Canadian Westinghouse. In January 1961, the two moved to Cambridge, Mass., intending to stay two more years. Those two years quickly turned into 49.

Upon moving to Cambridge, Law joined the staff of the Cambridge Electron Accelerator, a joint Harvard-Massachusetts Institute of Technology project. In 1963, he was made head of the electronics group, working on projects to keep the accelerator competitive with new technology.

In 1972, Law received a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Northeastern University, and a year later he became director of technical services in the newly built Harvard University Science Center, turning it into a working building for lectures, laboratories, and classrooms.

During the early 1970s, Law became increasingly involved with computer hardware. Along with assistant professor of computer science Chuck Prenner, he introduced the then very new UNIX operating system to Harvard, making the University one of the first places to use the system outside of Bell Laboratories, where it had been developed as an in-house system. He was also one of the five founding members of USENIX, the UNIX users group, which is now a nationwide organization. He was a valued member of the USENIX board until 1986.

In 1975, Law was instrumental in initiating the first undergraduate time-sharing system at Harvard. This system, which allows more than one user to use a computer system from multiple terminals, it was based on a PDP-11/45 machine, with 10 teletype machines used as terminals. This system was the forerunner of today’s extensive operation in FAS. When the drive to network computers began, he was involved in the creation of FASNET, a network that included the Science Center, most of the Harvard science departments, and the Harvard Law School. This network enabled students to work with their instructors online and heralded the introduction of e-mail to FAS.

By 1977, Law was made associate director of the Science Center and in 1984 the title changed to director of computer operations for FAS. In 1988, the position was upgraded to director of computer services. Law retired in 1992.

Outside of Harvard, Law’s avocations were sailing, both dinghy racing and large boat cruising, skiing, and skating.

He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Margaret, two sisters and a brother, in England.