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Amazing Grace

[for Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper]
Felix Dennis
July 24, 2001
Mandalay, Mustique
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A counter-clockwise clock:
  Tock-tick, tock-tick, tick-tock.
     The budget’s chock-a-block,
        The project’s in dry dock.

Abandon ship?  Who’ll tell her
  She’s fouled her own propeller?
     You’ll need ear-plugs young fellah —
         She’s a salty Cinderella!

Amazing Grace won’t buy it,
  (It’s not that she’ll defy it):
     “If questioned, just deny it,
        But, whatever happens — try it!”

Strange that one of the most inspirational people I have ever read about should be a Rear Admiral in the US Navy. Grace Murray Hopper was the co-inventor of COBOL, an important early computer programming language which made it possible to instruct computers using words rather than numbers. Her survival and rise in the male dominated world of the US armed forces speaks volumes for her abilities and guts. Hopper was a legend in the American Navy when she retired ‘involuntarily’ aged eighty, after 43 years of service. She was often credited with launching or supporting what appeared to her superiors to be ‘hare-brained schemes’ — only to be vindicated later. These ideas included using computers to track the life cycle of crop eating locusts, building a weather computer and tracking the waves at the bottom of the ocean. She smoked unfiltered Lucky Strike cigarettes and kept a clock in her office that ran counter-clockwise, to remind herself time was ‘running out’ rather than ‘going by’. There are many versions of the famous sign on her desk. I chose years ago to make one of them the official motto of my publishing company: “If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It’s much easier to apologise than it is to get permission.” She died in 1992 aged  85.