O11y Harlow, 1961-2017
Post this page to popular social media
Oliver (O11y) Harlow, who passed away on New Year’s Eve after a long illness, was a very popular and highly valued volunteer at the Museum for many years. His career was in electronic engineering working mainly in defence systems design and he brought a wealth of experience, knowledge, skill – and personality – to his volunteering at the Museum.
O11y (he used digits in his nickname) arrived on the museum scene in 2011 and soon offered his treasured 1960s Elliott 903 on which he had first developed his computing expertise. Generations of computers had superseded that Elliott 903, but O11y was very attached to it and when his old school decided to consign it to the rubbish tip, he rescued it, storing it first in his bedroom, then his attic and various other places before it found its home at the Museum. With fellow volunteers Terry Frogatt and Peter Williamson, he delighted in restoring it to its former glory. Today, it plays an important cameo role in the Learning Programme for students learning about ASCII
At the Museum, O11y created the spares and components (especially valves) store. His friend and fellow volunteer, Colin Eby explains: “O11y was our quartermaster. He could be found in his lair — a workshop stacked to the rafters with parts, donations and projects. He’d be wearing his overalls emblazoned ‘Nerd Grade III’. He was a lynch pin and a constant. He contributed his warmth, humour and expertise to almost any aspect of museum work you could imagine.”
That work included being volunteers’ association treasurer, accessions team lead, co-ordinator of the 8-bit home computer and home-gaming systems (especially his favourites, the Ataris and Commodores), keen supporter of robotics projects for Bytes festivals, often creating his own mini-robots, and the logistical brains behind the acquisition of the Royal Navy Combined Tactical Trainer simulation system.
Along with his technical expertise, came a very personable rapport with everyone at Block H: museum visitors, young and old, fellow volunteers, staff and trustees. Throughout his long illness, he came to the Museum whenever he could, always with a smile and a friendly word, despite what we imagine was his considerable discomfort and pain. He would often break his Friday journey home from work to drop in with a cheery chat with staff. Even when hospitalised, his emailed updates from his sick bed were frank and funny. Everyone marvelled at his resilience and good humour.
O11y would also act as an unofficial mentor for some. Steve Kay recalls “When I started volunteering at the Museum, O11y and I sorted, identified and stored away many boxes of valve donations together - his dry sense of humour ensured this was never boring. He could turn his hand to most things, but did once respond to my idea about a circuit that he couldn't help because he ‘didn't do analogue’. TNMoC will be much depleted without him.”
Colin Eby speaks for so many at the museum: “At the end of a Saturday, we’d gather round a pub table. O11y’s drink was a Coke – no ice – or, at the height of summer, perhaps one cube. We’d nurse our drinks, swap tales and crack each other up with laughter. O11y passes into our legends and stories – but at Nerd Grade I, not his self-proclaimed III. I’ll remember him with every pint I drink and every resistor I solder.”