Harry J. Tashjian lived his life on the border between the worlds of data and imagination. A mechanical engineer by training, he valued hard facts and numbers, but he also saw the value of imagining a future that didn't yet exist.
His forward thinking helped bring about the democratization of computers as he led teams that developed midsize computers -- desktop models much smaller than the room-size contraptions they replaced.
Tashjian, 90, worked at IBM in Rochester for more than 40 years. He died July 27 after complications from a stroke.
Tashjian's new powerful but cheaper models were "a major technological achievement," said Jeffrey Yost, associate director of the Charles Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota. Two computer families Tashjian helped create, System/3 and System/38, brought computers into new settings such as small businesses and science laboratories, Yost said.
The System/3 was the first computer system developed completely in-house at Rochester, a feat possible because Tashjian was savvy enough to call the technology a "unit record system" instead of a computer. Before that, computer design was entrusted to IBM's New York location.
Tashjian was a trusted leader who motivated his peers to live up to their full potential, said his son, Edward. He had a knack for organizing people and for getting things done right. But "he hated public speaking. He could hardly sleep the night before," his son said.
He remembers his dad best for his laughter and unrelenting optimism. He donated to charities, funded scholarships, served in World War II and was an active member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Rochester, where he served as senior warden from 1974 to 1976.
Tashjian played violin and loved classical music. He woke up every day by 5:30 a.m. and filled the house with recordings of Mozart, Bach and Beethoven.
Tashjian valued education highly, his son said. Sports were not high on his list of priorities, although he often joked that he couldn't die until the Vikings won the Super Bowl.
Tashjian and Alice, his wife of 62 years, met as children in Johnson City, N.Y., and married in their late 20s after finishing college and graduate school. Their families emigrated to the United States after the Armenian holocaust.
Tashjian donated his body to science so medical students and researchers could learn from it. "My dad hated the idea of his body being taxidermied like a stuffed fish," Edward said. "To the very end, he was giving himself away."
Tashjian is survived by his wife, three sons, Joseph, Edward and Christopher; daughter Francine and 11 grandchildren. An open house to honor Tashjian's life will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Aug. 24 at 1201 Yale Place, Minneapolis, Tashjian's birthday, with a service at 5 p.m.
Daniela Hernandez • 612-673-4088