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Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Virtual, then Real by Brian Oliver

Here and now, in 2006, most people consider Instant Messaging an appealing and relatively new concept. In fact, we used such a technique over 30 years ago at I.P.Sharp Associates. For example, I would be in some far-flung IPSA branch office, and type on my terminal:


.. moments later:


That was my VIRTUAL relationship with Mary Lee. She was in OPNS (Operations), where few other IPSA employees were allowed to tread. I knew who she was, but we never met face to face. That was in the late 1970's.

Then in the mid-1990's I was invited to do some consulting at Reuters which had acquired I.P.Sharp. I jumped at the opportunity, especially since I would finally get to meet Mary Lee Coombs in person. Thus began the REAL relationship. Mary Lee was strictly business and perhaps the most diligent person I ever worked with. The project meetings she conducted were straight to the point and never wandered off-topic. She was the most assiduous note-taker I ever saw — she went through rollerball pens like the rest of us would go through a bowl of Rice-Krispies. In the office — strictly business.

But Mary Lee enjoyed the occasional cigarette, and I experienced the occasional cigar. So twice a day, we would step outside the Exchange Tower for a smoke, and that's when the conversation turned personal, and I learned about pan, Trinidad, ballet, her irritating Thunderbird car and the condo controversy.

Of course smoking is a nasty, expensive and undesirable habit. But in this one instance, it allowed me to get to know Mary Lee Coombs as a very unique individual, and I miss her very much.

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