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Retirees in Action: Admiral Grace Hopper Inspires Digital/HP Alumni Book Group

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“HP Retirees in Action," a series showcasing HP retirees and alumni who are active in the business world and their communities. If you know a retiree who might be a good candidate for this series, please email hp.retireeprograms@hp.com

More than 20 years ago a group of women gathered at lunchtime in the Grace Hopper conference room at Digital’s Spit Brook Road facility in Nashua, NH to start a book discussion group.  Today, the name of the company has changed, the building has been sold, the women have retired or are working elsewhere, but the book group is still going strong.


It is significant that the group had its start in a room dedicated to the world’s most famous woman engineer, a renowned admiral, a pioneer computer scientist who worked as a senior consultant for Digital from her military retirement until her death in 1992. The group’s early success was in part due to the company's efforts to encourage and support women in the engineering organization by funding the Stone Center Program from the late 80’s to early 90’s.

“The Software Usability Engineering (SUE) group held regular book review/learning sessions,” said Minette Beabes, one of the original members. “At one of the sessions, I reviewed the book The Female Advantage: Women's Ways of Leadership by Sally Helgesen. From there several of us thought it would be good to continue the dialogue about women and women’s experiences, and we liked the idea of using a book-related format to feed the dialogue.”

And that’s just what it did. “The book group gave us a voice,” said Sandy Jones, who worked in the Software Usability Engineering group. “By reading and discussing books focusing on women’s experiences, we found deep connections. The bonding encouraged us to speak out,”  she said.

“Meeting once a week with other women in the company was energizing,” said Suzy Kane, who worked in the VMS engineering area from 1988 until October, 2005. “The group was a source of challenging and enriching discussions based on our readings and our lives. We developed an increased understanding of political and personal matters.”

“The women in the group have been positive teachers of life, not only in knowledge and intelligence, but also in kindness. There has been so much to emulate and learn from each and every one of them,” said Alana Brassard, who worked in the Software Usability Engineering Group from 1983 until she retired in 1990. “We have been on a long journey together,” she added.

Though members have rotated in and out, the core group of nine women ranging from mid-40s to early 70s, has continued to meet at least once a month to discuss works by women authors.

They take turns hosting dinner, with the host choosing the book and leading the discussion.   Over the years they have read books that run the gamut from classics by authors like Emily Bronte, Jane Austen and Virginia Wolfe, to British mysteries by P.D. James, biographies, non-fiction works by and about Islamic women, and popular fiction. Reflecting the changing stages of their lives, they have explored books about raising a family, navigating the challenges of middle age and celebrating life after 60.  (http://thekellys.net/bookgroup/index.html)

The group also travels together, sometimes to sites connected to the books they read. A trip to Cape Cod and another to Maine have become annual traditions. They celebrated their 10th anniversary with a trip to Tuscany and later this year they will celebrate their 20th anniversary with a trip to New York City.

Looking back on two decades of book discussions, software engineer Carol Kelly said, “The best thing I have from those VMS years is the Book Group. The friendship and camaraderie of these women is a sustaining part of my life—and that’s something that can never be outsourced.”

Here is a brief update on the Book Group members.

Minette Beabes started at Digital in 1987 in the 800-person Corporate Information Design group, where she raised awareness regarding information usability. She transferred to the Usability Engineering Group, where she consulted with numerous product and solutions teams on contextual research and usability. In 1995 she moved to Xerox Corp. in Rochester, NY to work in IT and Research. She currently manages a Xerox customer engagement team within product development. Though she currently lives in Rochester where she is raising a 13-year-old son, she still enjoys adventures with the Book Group whenever possible.

Alana Brassard worked at Digital from 1983 to 1990, primarily in the Software Usability Engineering Group. She stopped working due to a disability, but continues to be an active member of the book group.  Alana lives with her husband Rich and enjoys spending time with her family, friends and five perfect grandchildren.

Carolyn Crowell spent 16 years teaching English in junior and senior high school in the US and France before joining Digital as a computer software technical writer. She spent 24 years with the company, working first in the Application Control Management System group and then in the OpenVMS group.  She wrote mainly about application and system management. She retired from HP in 2007. Since then, she has participated in exercise classes, belongs to two book groups, travels, attends concerts, movies, and plays regularly. Recently, she’s done some editing of the Wellesley College 50th reunion book.  She is currently assessing what kind of volunteer work would suit her best and be most personally satisfying.

Anne Duncan was employed by Digital/Compaq from 1978 to 2000, working as a software engineer, manager, and program manager in a variety of software groups including Software Standards, Databases, Languages and Tools, Software Usability Engineering, and VMS. In 2000, she joined a health-care software startup where she workeduntil 2003. A career change in 2003 led her to teach English to international professionals and graduate students at a private language institute and at Harvard University.  Now in Austin, TX, she teaches ESL and Academic Writing at the University of Texas at Austin and spends time with her grandson.

Nancy Etscovitz was a Technical Editor in the OpenVMS Documentation group, the Applications and Systems group, and the Media Communications group at Digital from 1986 to 1994. After leaving Digital, she worked as a Senior Editor for Clinsoft Corporation from 1994 to 2001. Her most recent job was with Wellesley Information Services, where she was managing editor for SAP PRESS from 2002 to 2007. Since then she has worked as a consultant and contract editor. Nancy enjoys spending time with her husband Phil, her twin 14-year-old sons, Ira and Evan, and her standard poodle, Sasha.

Sandy Jones worked in the Software Usability Engineering group at Digital from 1980 to 1992. After leaving Digital, she earned a master’s degree from Harvard and a doctorate in developmental psychology from Boston College. Her post-Digital work has included research on women’s identities and work experiences, teaching psychology classes, exploring the performance of social science, and conducting workshops on narrative constructions of identity. She enjoys travel, hiking, and agility training with her standard poodle, Jack.

Suzy Kane joined Digital  in Feb., 1988. She worked in the VMS engineering group, as a technical writer and documentation project leader. After retirement in the fall of 2005, she devoted her time to caring for an elderly friend and developing her travel website, www.IdyllicItaly.com <http://www.IdyllicItaly.com> and custom travel consulting. She also became active in the politics of Peaks Island, Maine, where she lives.  Her travel adventures have included trips to Italy for business and pleasure and trips to California and Nantucket to visit her sons and their families.

Carol Kelly was a software engineer at Digital for eight years, five years in the Artificial Intelligence group and three years in the VMS Tools group. After leaving the company in 2002, she became a consultant, working for five different companies. She currently works for a company in Foxboro, MA that makes security software for process control systems.

Joanne Sterling worked at Digital/Compaq/HP from 1987-2006 where she held a variety of positions, including technical writer, resource and program manager, instructional designer, and performance consultant. Since leaving HP, she has worked as an instructional designer at Fidelity Investments and EMC and is currently at Harvard Business School helping to implement a new resume database tool for the MBA Career and Professional Development office.

Read more about other retirees in action on the HP Retiree Website. http://www.hp.com/retiree/action.html or on the internal portal http://intranet.hp.com/marketing/brandmarketing/ebe/Pages/retiree.aspx.