Gardening 02

Virginia Sara Jordan

March 5, 1945 ~ March 28, 2022 (age 77)

Obituary

Virginia Sara Jordan died on March 28, 2022. She was born on March 5, 1945, in Brooklyn, NY, the second daughter of Abel and Charlotte Jordan.  At 15, as a senior at the Bronx High School of Science, she tied for the highest score of any girl in the state on the New York State Regents Scholarship exam.  Her picture was on the front page of the second section in the New York Times. “I knew very early that Ginny was bright,” her mother told the later-famous young reporter, Gay Talese, who came to interview the family. “She could read at 3½ and had a library card at 4.” 

 

            At 14, Virginia begun programming on an enormous IBM computer in a Saturday science program at Columbia University.   She learned assembly language, the elemental language of computers, and calculated a Fibonacci sequence (named after a medieval Italian mathematician who worked out what would happen if you put a pair of rabbits in a place surrounded on all sides by a wall). Fibonacci sequences have applications all over the natural world, even the arrangement of leaves on a tree.

 

​At 16, she entered Radcliffe College, technically as a sophomore, because she had passed three advanced placement exams, one of them without even taking a course: she simply spent two weeks reading Samuel Eliot Morison’s Oxford History of the American People. She stayed for a fourth undergraduate year, however, and after graduating from Radcliffe magna cum laude as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, remained at Harvard for graduate school. Those were tough years for women in the sciences. Virginia was one of five women to enter the applied math doctoral program.  She received a master’s degree in 1966 and a year later was the only woman left standing.   After passing her oral exams, she worked on a dissertation analyzing the long waves of tsunamis, and spent much of one summer on a research vessel at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. She taught at the College of William & Mary and then was recruited as one of the first staff scientists in a new program for oceanographic research at NASA. In January, 1974 she got the devastating news that her adviser had rejected her dissertation, with no explanation beyond the fact that she had exceeded a new eight year time limit.

 

​Virginia had offers for both jobs and graduate programs, but wanted to return to New England. She was hired by EG&G as a programmer who knew oceanography. After four years there, she went to Nippon Electric Company, NEC, in Needham, explaining semiconductors to potential customers. She loved her several trips to Japan. She had a series of two-year jobs with startups, including work on a multi-function print/copy/scan/fax interface, and camera-guided robots. Starting March 1986, she spent a decade at Polaroid. She worked on engineering and research projects including a new digital printer and digital camera. Polaroid became notorious for failing to capitalize on the inventions of its talented staff. (Polaroid spun off the printer as a separate company, and cancelled the camera.)

 

Among other achievements in nearly 25 years in high tech, she was instrumental in the efforts of U.S and international standards organizations (ANSI, ISO) to persuade a number of computer companies to join the Personal Computer Memory Card International Association (PMCIA)  which led to compatible industry-standard compact PC card storage for cameras and laptop computers.

​In 1994, after she had gynecological surgery, pathologists examining the tissue they had removed decided it was ovarian cancer. She started her first round of chemotherapy. Meanwhile Polaroid imploded, laying off about 1500 people in 1996.  Anticipating trouble, Virginia had moved to Xionics, where she focused on the user interface for its copier.. In 1998, she needed a second surgery and decided to retire. “I thought nature was telling me to slow down,” she recalled

 

During her recovery, she regularly walked from her Belmont home to the nearby Benton Library, a tiny branch of the town library based in a century-old former school chapel. It was about four short blocks away, just the right distance, and, she noted, it had a bathroom. But in 2006 the town decided to close it to save money. Virginia rallied her neighbors and incorporated the nonprofit Friends of the Benton Library, which now operates the facility with volunteer staff and supported entirely by donations. 

 

Following her retirement, she was elected to Belmont Town Meeting, helped edit a local environmental newsletter, joined the Thursday Club, a women’s group founded in 1890 to read aloud from classic works of literature, and became an active member of the Beth El Temple Center.  She enjoyed growing vegetables in her community garden plot. A loyal alumna, she helped organize at least seven Harvard-Radcliffe class reunions and monthly lunch gatherings of Radcliffe classmates.. 

 

She also became a certified mediator and an active member and board secretary of North Shore Community Mediation; she did small claims mediation for the Salem District Court.

 

​Sadly, the ovarian cancer came back, after one of the longest remissions on record. No promising treatments were available.

 

​Predeceased by her parents, her sister Patricia, and a cousin,. she is survived by her beloved partner of more than thirty years, John Goodman; two stepsons, Tucker Goodman (Stephanie) and EbenGoodman (Ali), and three step-grandchildren, Elsa, Beau, and Iris Goodman, to whom she was “Grandma Ginny.:  She is also survived by two cousins and many devoted friends..

 

​A service at the Brown & Hickey Funeral Home in Belmont, MA on March 30 conducted by Rabbi Jonathan Kraus was followed by burial at Beit Olam East Cemetery in Wayland, MA.

 

​Tax-deductible donations to the Friends of the Benton Library in her memory would be greatly appreciated by her family and friends.  Checks marked Virginia S. Jordan Fund on the memo line may be sent to The Friends of the Benton Library, P. O. Box 425, Belmont, MA 02476.

 

 

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