Dick Gottier harnessed technology to help

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 5, 2009 - 11:18 AM

He tailed mafioso, helped establish many med-tech firms, and built computers so every kid could have one.

In a career that satisfied Richard (Dick) Gottier's love of electronics and gadgets, he rubbed elbows with Mafia brutes in the 1940s and toddlers in day care centers 60 years later.

From 1941 to 1951, Gottier was an FBI agent tailing the Mafia in New York City, Chicago and Detroit. He would work in a hotel room, bugging an adjoining room of mafia figures through the closet on the common wall, said his wife, Mary Gottier. He had planned to leave the FBI to join the Navy during World War II, but J. Edgar Hoover pulled him back, said his daughter Penny Fena of Maple Grove.

His fascination with electronics began in the FBI, but he left because "he wanted to start associating more with the good guys," said his wife.

After the FBI, he held senior management positions at RCA, Magnavox and Control Data. He was part of the RCA management team that mass-produced the first color TV, and he watched the first one come off the assembly line in Indianapolis. Fena remembers growing up in a house where her dad was always building something electronic, from TVs to computers. "As late as just a few years ago, he loved spending hours on computer helplines to find out how something worked," said Fena.

When he was working for Magnavox in the 1960s, he encountered a project similar to his furtive work at the FBI. The project name was literally "I Can't Tell You."

"About once a month Magnavox would fly him somewhere, blindfolded," his wife said. Eventually he learned that the project was for radio communications on a military plane during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

His career in the early days of computers put him on the cutting edge of technology. He developed some of the first touch screens installed in Dayton's and Disneyland that helped people navigate their way through a department store or an amusement park.

After Gottier retired from Control Data in the early 1980s, he formed the Minnesota Seed Fund, a venture capital group, with Bruce Dayton, Bobby Piper of Piper Jaffray, William Norris, the co-founder of Control Data, and others. The group established more than 20 technology-based companies in Minnesota and the nation. Much of the technology developed was medical, including soft-tipped catheters for angioplasty and apnea monitors to prevent sudden infant death syndrome.

"It was a fascinating time in my father's career. It brought together many of his skills -- mentoring, creativity, and a love of computers and technology," said Fena.

For the last decade, Gottier's hobby was building computers to donate to day care centers and nonprofits such as the Courage Center. "He wanted every kid to have a computer," his daughter said.

Shortly before he died he was installing software on a Dell computer to send to his grandson before he started college. Until he died on July 20 at age 90, he was still working on assembling more computers to give away. "I don't know what I'm going to do with the 10 computers that he had in progress in the basement," his wife said.

In addition to his wife, Mary, who lives in Plymouth, and daughter Penny, Gottier is survived by daughter Diane Shaw of Big Fork, Mont., son Richard of Brooklyn Park, and two grandchildren. A private memorial service has been held.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633#

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