Helen O’Malley, Computing Pioneer

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From the Bulletin and Tab

Helen L. (Goode) O’Malley of Natick passed away on October 16, 2020.

Helen started her distinguished computer programming career with the installation of the first computer system at WGBH-TV Boston, and was the first female member of the Data Processing and Management Association.

Later in life she became very active in the Natick community. She did much volunteer work at the Natick Council on Aging and Natick Town Hall. Helen was devoted to her American flag project and crocheted flags that have been sent to veterans and veterans organizations all over the United States.

Always having a joke ready to brighten one’s day, she will be remembered for her good humor and kindness, and will be sorely missed by family and friends.

From Lo Hartnett

I met Helen O’Malley in 1972. She managed the old Honeywell computer system which housed the station’s IT department — accounting and fund raising data systems.

It was 1972, folks — no internet, no devices, not even computer monitors. Pledge and donation forms were handwritten, and then “keypunched” on cards which Helen ran through the Honeywell to update donor accounts.

O’Malley managed it all, and made constant upgrades to all systems to automate many manual tasks. The major upgrade was the introduction of computer monitors in the fundraising offices about 1977. Finally we could look at a donor’s account and giving information on a computer monitor and make live updates to addresses. WOW! 20th Century. (Previous to that, the donor giving data was printed on green bar ledger and kept in 13 books so we could look up donor info and answer their questions. I wish I had a picture of those books.)

During pledge drives, when our work volume tripled, Helen was at her computer until midnight processing thousands of pledge slips so we could process the credit card donations. She was also here for every Auction on-air hour and beyond … way beyond.

During her tenure, her kids (Kerry and Mark) volunteered … everywhere — office, Zoom Room, Live Pledge, Auction. They grew up at GBH, and were always a great help to us.

O’Malley had a CAN-DO spirit when it came to computer hurdles, and there were a lot of those. She was a behind-the-scenes problem solver and keeper of the GBH data. She tackled it all, and always with her belly laugh and big smile. RIP Helen. You made a big difference.


  1. Amy Meyers on January 8, 2021 at 3:53 pm

    Comforted to see remembrances from others who were fortunate enough to work with Helen as she introduced us to computers. How quickly we overcame our awe and intimidation to inundate her with a barrage of requests to expand the capabilities of the fund raising system. Always good humored, she generously shared her knowledge and expertise.

    Helen’s mother, Peg Goode, was one of our stalwart volunteers who could, to my amazement, stuff pledge reminders or membership renewals for hours on end. Peg would repeat those monotonous moments, all the while sitting still (except for the motion oh her hands) maintaining a beatific smile on her face. I remember, when envious of her calmness, i asked her how she could sit still so long and seem so at peace. The response was, “I’m thinking of PEI.”

    I learned a lot from Helen and Peg.

    Stay safe everyone.

  2. Paul Gay on January 6, 2021 at 6:28 pm

    Helen was an irrepressible person and spirit.
    Always able to do the next impossible seeming task – converting to the new IBM 360 – hours upon thousands of cards; adding features like project management for shows and departments not just to look back, but to plan forward to see if we’d ever meet “the budget”.
    Helen’s positive influence went all thru GBH. I was so pleased to work with her and have her as a friend. Those were the days!

  3. Skip Mueller on January 5, 2021 at 5:39 pm

    I owe my entire career in IT to Helen. Lo Hartnett has already written an excellent primer on data processing in the early 70’s, so I won’t even try to say more about it, but working in the business office in both Boston and Springfield I had almost daily contact with Helen, and with her “encouragement” began volunteering to help keypunch pledge and auction information. Eventually she taught me what I needed to know to occasionally run the computer system at night or on weekends when an extra body was needed. She also introduced me to programming, also done via punch cards(!), and when I left GBH in 79 IT became my career for the next 40 years.
    In addition to working with Helen, I once had the opportunity to once visit her at her place on Prince Edward Island, where we went clamming and did an enormous jigsaw puzzle. She had a great sense of humor, and while we had not kept in touch the memories of her bring a smile to my face, and I am truly saddened to learn of her passing.

  4. Karen Johnson on January 1, 2021 at 12:04 pm

    I remember Helen with great admiration and fondness. Always ready with a smile and a way to make us laugh. She was the first computer person I ever knew! I remember her explaining to me how it worked, and finally interrupting herself to laugh at my bewilderment. We moved from 125 to the garage across the street at 110 shortly after I started in 1974, and I think Helen personally carried or escorted every part and every card across the street.

    One memory of those days stands out. Helen and Sally Foskett, who headed the Fundraising office at the time, had a running conversation about the computer, in the office, through the halls, in Helen’s lair, across our fundraising room, completely confusing to me until I realized Helen was referring to it as “he” and Sally called it “they.”

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