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John Mason (Jack) Harker

1926 - 2013 Obituary Condolences
John Mason (Jack) Harker Obituary
John (Jack) Mason Harker
June 29, 1926 - April 27, 2013
Resident of San Mateo
John Mason Harker, always known as 'Jack', passed away peacefully in his home in San Mateo, California, on the morning of April 27, 2013. Jack Harker was an inventor, mechanical engineer, product manager, program manager, and leader noteworthy in the pioneering and development of disk storage systems.
Starting as a member of the original team that developed the first disk storage system he went on to be instrumental in the development of IBM Direct Access Storage products for the next 35 years. In addition to significant development contributions Jack was twice Director of the IBM San Jose Storage Laboratories, an IBM Fellow, and an IEEE fellow.
Born in 1926 to Ralph and Bertha Harker in San Francisco, California, Jack was the youngest of four brothers. His grandfather was an English coal miner who emigrated and eventually became the President of the Illinois Women's College. His father came west in 1910 and rode a motorcycle up and down the Central Valley selling newspaper ads, then spent a period as a chicken rancher in the Napa Valley, and settled down to become an advertising executive opening several agencies up and down the West Coast. Growing up Jack moved from San Francisco to Seattle to Los Angeles and back to Berkeley. He later said he was tired of moving and wanted to stay put, and that he did, living on the Peninsula for over 60 years.
During World War II, after graduating early from Berkeley High and getting a semester in at Cal Berkeley, Jack enlisted in the Navy, becoming an electronics repair specialist and serving onboard in the both the Atlantic and Pacific. After the war he received his BA in Mechanical Engineering from Swarthmore College in 1950; it was there he met his wife, Elizabeth Lewis. Jack and Betsy married in 1951 in Los Angeles, and they moved back to Berkeley where Jack got a Masters in Mechanical Engineering from Cal Berkeley in 1952.
After graduating from Berkeley he was hired by Reynold "Rey" Johnson as the eighteenth employee of the new IBM design laboratory in San Jose, California. His first noteworthy project was as a mechanical engineer on the original team developing the IBM 350 RAMAC disk storage unit, the world's first hard disk drive. He then went on to lead pioneering invention and development of the air-bearing disk head access mechanism for the IBM 1301 system and removable disk packs with the IBM 1311. From 1972-1974 and again in 1986-1987 he was Director of IBM San Jose Storage Laboratories. In between, as the Valley of Heart's Delight became Silicon Valley, he was IBM Director of Technology notably driving the creation of and leading the Technology and Advanced Development Group (TAD) and developments such as the Winchester program and thin film head technologies.
While at IBM in 1962 he received a Masters in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University. In 1974 he was appointed an IBM Fellow, and in 1993 received the first IEEE Reynold B. Johnson Information Storage Systems Award "for leadership in the development of information storage devices". He retired from IBM in 1987.
Whether on Gailen or on Melville, he was part of a tight-knit extended "family" of neighbors, and always happy to share a glass of wine with friends. He was a great father and husband; an avid sailor, camper, hiker, fisherman, and wine connoisseur; a citizen and traveler of the world; and, first and foremost, an engineer.
Jack is survived by the love of his life, his wife Elizabeth 'Betsy' Harker; sons John, Robert, and Andrew; son-in-law Jeffrey and daughter-in-law Barbara; grandchildren Alexandra, Brian, Erin, and Sarah; niece Jill Davis, and many grandnieces and grandnephews.
A memorial service is planned. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Computer History Museum or to Mission Hospice & Home Care of San Mateo.

Published in San Jose Mercury News/San Mateo County Times on May 12, 2013
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