Robert H. Allen - May 6, 2002

Robert H. Allen passed away on May 6 of heart failure and complications of diabetes

Robert H. Allen, 67, supercomputer pioneer dies
Trudi Hahn
Star Tribune Published May 10, 2002

Robert H. Allen was a person who could get things done.

That was a big asset when Cray Research, Inc. was getting started, said his friend Lester Davis of Chippewa Falls, Wis.

Allen, of Maple Grove, a computer programmer in the earliest days of the pioneering supercomputing firm, died Monday of heart failure and complications of diabetes. He was 67.

Davis and Allen were among the people Seymour Cray asked to go with him when he left Control Data Corp.'s lab in Chippewa Falls in 1972 to found his own company, now Cray Inc.

Allen "had kind of a knack for leading people and getting them to go along with him," said Davis, who was in engineering.

"Bob wouldn't necessarily pick the traditional solution," he said. "He had kind of an intuitive sense of how to solve problems."

Davis said Allen helped develop software for Cray I, one of the earliest fast computers needed for solving scientific problems. Microchips weren't available in the early 1970s, so a lot of hardware had to be linked together to get the necessary speed. Cray I, which cost between $8 million and $10 million, had almost 80,000 watts of power and "occupied a room probably bigger than most of our houses," Davis said. "A lot of what it did can now be done on desktop computers."

Allen helped create the behemoth's computing power, working in small groups with the limited resources of a start-up company. In later years his responsibilities expanded to include developing programs for inventory controls and other manufacturing-related programs for use within Cray, Davis said.

"He didn't get the attention and public credit he deserved for the first Cray machines," he said.

Allen was far from a stereotypical computer guy stuck in front of a glowing screen. He and other dads started a recreational hockey league for their children in Hallie Township, near Chippewa Falls, , where Cray Research was located. And at the time of his death, he was running Sundance Golf & Bowl in Maple Grove.

"That is a jump" from the world of computers, said his wife, Marion of Maple Grove.

Allen was an excellent bowler, she said, and in 1980, while he was still working at Cray, the Allens and her sister and brother-in-law, Colleen and John Pierson, an avid golfer, bought the property when it offered only golf.

They built the bowling section in 1986, and Allen took over the office when he retired from Cray in 1990. The Allens bought out the Piersons in 1997, Marion Allen said.

In addition to his wife, survivors include children Karin Pettis of Augusta, Wis.; Jody Allen of Champlin; Matthew Allen of Chippewa Falls; Brian Allen of Minneapolis; five grandchildren, and sisters Carole Montemayor of Guanajuato, Mexico, and Cheryl Molitor of Dallas.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at the Evans-Nordby Funeral Home, 34 2nd St. NE., Osseo.

-- Trudi Hahn is at

Copyright 2002 Star Tribune. Republished here with the permission of the Star Tribune.
No further republication or redistribution is permitted without the express approval of the Star Tribune.

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