Grace Hopper isn't gone. Once removed maybe, but not gone. She'll never leave me alone. She said so as she poked one boney finger into my shoulder and peered into my eyes saying, "If you let anything happen to Chips, I'll come back and haunt you!" I'm not often at a loss for words, but with a wrinkled little lady in an admiral's suit crowding close enough to see me sweat, all I could do was mumble, "I won't let anything happen. I promise." I've revisited that promise many times, knowing the lady started haunting me long before she left us.
Chips was one of her babies; I'm the designated guardian. And no one in heaven or on earth wields enough influence with Hopper to help me if I blow the assignment. That was clearly understood between us.
I took over stewardship of Chips in March of '86. The first edition that I had any control over was July. Being a bit of a grandstander myself, along with being incredibly stupid, I decided to start my Chips career with a bang. I'd try for an interview with this crusty lady admiral who was going to speak at the upcoming Navy Micro Conference.
Me afraid? Get real. Lois Lane is never afraid of anything. Maybe a little apprehensive about Superman in tights, but that's the extent of it. Besides, I'd seen admirals before, big ones, small ones, in between ones. I was always more or less appropriately impressed and well behaved.
I made the required phone calls and was granted an audience at 9:00 p.m. on a Wednesday night. Swell. That's past my bedtime, and I was absolutely certain it was past lights out for a 70-year-old-plus, admiral or not.
As I look back on that night, I don't know what I really expected. Whatever it was, it was light years away from what I got.
True to my profession, I did my homework. Armed with a tape recorder, spare tapes, pad of paper, two pens and well-prepared, pre-sanctioned questions, I arrived at the designated audience chamber, the lobby of the Hotel Radisson, well ahead of the appointed hour. Promptly at 9 o'clock, the elevator door opened, and the lady emerged. Shaking my hand she said, "So you're the new Chips editor. What makes you think you can do the job?"
Commodore Grace M. Hopper
Special Assistant to the Commander,
Naval Data Automation Command.
The interview didn't go downhill from there, but it sure established who controlled whom. We talked; I asked my questions. She talked; I changed tapes. She talked some more; I changed tapes again. She smoked; I took notes. She started asking me questions; I ran out of tape. She was winding up; I was winding down.
I had expected the usual 30-minute interview. So much for anticipation. My bedtime was now well behind me, and I was sagging. Around 10:45, I noticed a gaggle of young people. However late the hour, these kids were listening to Hopper lecture me and were waiting for a small audience of their own. Hopper didn't disappoint any of them. It was nearly midnight when I tottered to my car, leaving her still holding court with her fan club. The next morning I took a few editorial liberties with my starting time, arriving at the conference around 9:00 a.m. No sooner had I cleared the portals of the Pavilion Convention Center when my boss, panic clearly showing in his eyes, rushed up to say, "Admiral Hopper wants to see you. You left last night before she was finished."
Round two started with Hopper towing me around the convention center with the crowds parting before us, all the while lecturing me on what she expected from Chips. In many ways, Hopper was a character of her own creation. She understood showmanship and worked a crowd like the trooper she was. Her gimmick was the nanosecond, and her appeal was universal. She was loved, revered, respected, talked about and enjoyed. The lady was ours, and she had grit.
I'll remember my promise, your Amazing Grace. I'll take care of the baby.