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Theodore Edlin ’57

December 15, 2020, in Berkeley, California, of lymphoma.

Ted was a true Renaissance man who worked in many fields, including construction, rocketry, computers, law, energy conservation, and politics. He came to Reed from Waterbury, Connecticut, where he grew up in a secular Jewish family. He paid for tuition in part by working construction and jockeying in a gas station. He wrote his thesis, “A Study of the Aging of Evaporated Thin Silver Films,” with Prof. Jean Delord [physics 1950–88]. Years later, he would be instrumental in helping to establish the Jean Delord Scholarship.

He worked in the aerospace industry for Douglas Aircraft on the development of rocket launches. Ted came to learn that firms making money on cost-plus government contracts would not applaud his reducing costs in his area by 75%. After a break to get his JD from UC Hastings College of the Law, he worked in the early computer industry as an attorney/manager for several firms in the late ’60s and ’70s, all of which failed, but which launched folks who later became billionaires and luminaries of the computer industry at Xerox PARC, Adobe, and Microsoft. 

Ted’s own group went to NASA Ames, where they managed to get ILLIAC IV, the first massively parallel computer, up and running. It became the first network-available supercomputer, beating the Cray, and for a while was the fastest computer of its time.

Moving on to the energy field, Ted had positions with the Energy Commission of California, working with IGOP (Intergovernmental Loan Program), SERI (Solar Energy Research Institute), and Lawrence Berkeley Labs on energy conservation. He was also in his element doing construction on a couple of small apartment buildings that he and his former wife, Dorothy Moore Edlin ’56, owned in Berkeley.

Known for his dry, eccentric wit, Ted was an endearing curmudgeon who, as one friend said, gave “feisty” a positive spin. For nearly half a century, he was active in Berkeley politics, opposing rent control and advocating for better city management. He chaired the Housing Advisory Commission, was a member of the Fire Commission, and was generous with his time, helping those needing advice or legal work, brainstorming on city initiatives and political strategies, or helping with construction.

Ted’s lymphoma was diagnosed only 12 days before his death, partly because he continued his energetic lifestyle until nearly the end. He is survived by his son Aaron Edlin, his stepson Noel Edlin, his girlfriend Janet Rothman, and Dorothy Edlin, his former wife of 43 years.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2021

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