Dick Morley’s Obituary…from the pages of the INSIDER

Insiderlogo3My editorial this month in the Industrial Automation and Process Control INSIDER(TM) is an homage to my friend Dick Morley.

Dick Morley loved his Harley. He rode until he was forced by ill health to give it up in his mid – 70s. He told me that after he dropped out of MIT because he didn’t want to learn German, he went down to Brooklyn and got a job as a bouncer in a biker bar. He had a rare genetic mutation that made him not feel pain. So he could go after big bikers fearlessly. He said he met his wife, Shirley, there. “She was a real biker chick,” he said. Together, he and Shirley raised their own and over 35 foster children. When she passed, it was clear to his friends that Dick had lost the will to live.

But what a life he led. You’d think that the man who invented the floppy disk, the handheld terminal, zone building HVAC, was the father of the PLC, and created the people mover for Detroit and Disney World, among the more than 100 patents he held, would be a household name, but Dick was a surprisingly private individual who didn’t really want or enjoy credit for all that, and the limelight. So names like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs became famous, while Dick Morley just went on inventing.

linked (his and hers) choco- late. He was working in his last years with several Chinese firms who were trying to use stem cells to cure cancer. He said they were very close, too.

Dick and Shirley, and Odo Struger (of Allen – Bradley) and his wife were skiing buddies. I’m sure that the ideas that led to the Modicon PLC were discussed on the chairlift and in the lodge in the evening. But Dick hated long lift lines. He went to his boss and said, I want to work Wednesday through Sunday, please. His boss said, “No, and why aren’t you wearing a necktie?” Dick, as you might guess, quit on the spot.

Shirley told him they had about six months’ savings, so he’d better invent something good, quickly. Bedford Associates was born and started doing work in programming for CNC machines. One night, Dick said, he got drunk and the concept of the PLC came to him as if in a dream.

“It was always a computer,” Dick told me, “but we had to call it something else so that the plant floor electricians would be allowed to operate it. So we called it a PLC, and we programmed it in ladder logic, which most of the electricians knew.”

Ladder logic is the most widely used industrial programming language to this day, and his other brainchild, Modbus, may be the oldest network protocol in common use. They were simple, elegant, easy to use, easy to learn to use, and very powerful…all hallmarks of the Morley touch.

If Dick thought you were worthy of it, he’d talk to you for hours. I loved spending time with him in his later years, listening to his stories, and his no – nonsense theories about manufac- turing. For example, he believed that the prop- er ratio of engineers to sales people was about 10 sales people to every engineer.

Very different beliefs than most entrepreneurs.

Dick on his Harley, with his famous Javahoe remotely operated backhoe.

He and his friend Jim Pinto spent years as angel investors, specializing in helping young inventors be successful. And he always made sure that there were a couple of young entre- preneurs at the annual Geek Pride Day at his barn in New Hampshire.

Some of Dick’s friends are planning a memorial Geek Pride Day next June in his memory. If you are interested in being part of the planning, let me know.

Dick was a good friend, a brilliant and unconventional mind, and a very great man. I will, we all will, miss him very much.

Farewell to MIT’s most famous drop – out. May your Harley ever run sweet, Dick.

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2 thoughts on “Dick Morley’s Obituary…from the pages of the INSIDER

  1. Pingback: Dick Morley’s Obituary…from the pages of the INSIDER – MeasurementDevices in Industry and Science

  2. Ralph Mackiewicz

    A fine obituary for a great man. Thank you Walt. When I graduated from college in 1977 I got involved in the PLC industry working for Westinghouse. I learned about PLCs by studying Dick’s work from the 484 before struggling to compete with him (eventually Westinghouse gave up trying). Back then it was called a Programmable Controller (PC). The industry had to adapt PLC after IBM and Microsoft stole our acronym! He was really one of smartest and most entertaining people I have ever had the honor of meeting.


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