Saturday, December 8, 2018

My friend Larry Fincher-A computer wiz for all ages

I've met so many men with long remarkable lives who come together to form Givens Guys Group at The Givens Estates, a retirement community in Asheville.  The group is the only one of our 16 men's groups that is not directly part of Men's Wisdom Works which operates from OLLI UNC Asheville.  It stands alone as a men's group for residents of Givens Estates with 14 members.

I first met Larry Fincher by way of computer.  No, not computer dating.  I was struggling with a complex computer system while teaching a class at OLLI on the mayhem and madness of The Marx Brothers four years ago.  Mayhem indeed.  It was like Grouch and Harpo took control of the classroom.

Typically I solve my own computer issues, but not this time.  Seeing my angst and frustration one class member stepped forward and offered, "Let me give you a hand".  His hand saved my butt in the classroom.  That was Larry; unassuming, polite and an expert on all things computer-related.  Larry was 80 at the time.

At the end of the 3rd of four sessions highlighting the lives and antics of the Marx Brothers Larry devised a plan that was pure comedy gold.  By that session the tech system and I were simpatico.  Finally, it worked without a hitch.  As the 4th and final class began I donned a Harpo get-up as Larry conceived in his plan.  I faked another computer problem.  Larry strolled in from the back dressed like and walking like Groucho.  The Marx Brothers came to life.  Larry's eyes twinkled as he pulled a rubber chicken from under the computer.  His creativity turned chaos into comedy gold, creating the best classroom dynamic I ever experienced in my 37 years teaching adults.

Larry possesses a thorough applied understanding of computer technology.  We're often told that if you need any help on your technology consult with someone under 20 years of age.  Larry tosses that notion out the door at age 84.

Larry's computer expertise came from his personal interest in learning, applying and teaching computers.  He did not major in computer science.

Larry earned a master's degree in physics from Vanderbilt in 1958.  In the early 60's Larry took his first computer course using the MISTIC system (Michigan State Integral Computer).  In 1961-1967, as an Assistant Professor of Physics, he integrated computing into classical lab procedures.  In 1967-69, he worked to complete his Ph.D. in Administration of Higher Education at The University of Michigan.  Larry took advanced courses in computing.

During his time at Michigan he dove deep into computer tech working on the huge "IBM mainframe 360".  He had to dive deep.  His dissertation required advanced computer skills.  It was an era of significant advances in computer technology and Larry found himself at the forefront in understanding and adapting this growth spurt in computer science.

With his Ph.D. in tow, Larry served in administration and teaching at the U of M, UNC Greensboro, and ended his career at in academe at The University of Oregon.  While at The University of Oregon he supervised the installation of the most advanced university computer systems, including a fiber optics network and the first online registration system.

Now at 84, Larry is an influencer and coach for younger and older folks, alike.  At Givens Estates he is the go-to computer guru for the many residents with computer issues.  Larry's son, David, built his first computer at summer camp during his high school years.  David continues the family tradition as an advanced systems consultant in Shanghai China.  Larry and his son have had continual interaction keeping up with the evolution of computer science into the current environment of mobile devices communicating worldwide with social media.  Computers are in Larry;s family DNA.

In recent years, Larry advises his granddaughter on the many uses of her Apple laptop, iPad, and iPhone.  This reverses that axiom of the "under 20 computer expert" we've been programmed to use as our computer expert.  Larry's granddaughter is 18.  He 84 year old granddad is her computer wiz.

As the family patriarch Larry coaches his granddaughter who, because of Larry's coaching, has learned to communicate using social media and other online resources with her father in Shanghai.  Larry shares his excitement with her as they correspond around the globe whether she's in Colorado or Shanghai.  She is a freshman at the University of Colorado-Boulder.  She continues to use the expertise and insights she learned from her Gramps to stay connected with him, her father, and the world.

So, this holiday season of gift exchanges and love of family and friends, I think of Larry, and his gifts of learning, passion for teaching, and his never-ending grasp of advanced computer technology to serve others.  To the Givens Guys Group, his family and friends...Larry is the best gift of all.