Neil Gorchow, Computer Programming Pioneer Who Worked With NASA, Dies at 95


Neil Gorchow | Courtesy Jonathan Gorchow
Neil Gorchow, a former Sperry Univac executive who helped create software used on NASA missions, died of heart failure at his home in Sarasota, Florida, on Dec. 26. He was 95.

The former Rydal resident partnered with NASA when Sperry Univac was chosen to develop the software used on the Gemini and Apollo programs. He knew the astronauts on both missions and was invited to attend several launches.

Gorchow was born to Joe and Doris Gorchow in Sioux City, Iowa. He served in the Navy during World War II and was one of the first entrants in the Navy’s V-12 Program, a college course to train commissioned officers for the war. He served as a lieutenant, junior grade, aboard the destroyer USS Eugene A. Greene and was honorably discharged in July 1946.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Iowa after the war. He returned to Sioux City to join his family’s coal distribution business and served as chairman of the United Jewish Appeal and commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States.

Gorchow married Roslyn Wein in 1955. They moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he joined Sperry Univac as a software systems analyst in 1956 and later advanced to director of software systems.

Early in his 30-year career at the company, he helped to develop software for the U.S. Census and UNIVAC, the world’s first commercially produced electronic digital computer.

He became vice president of product strategy in 1965 and lived with his wife and four children in Rydal while working from Sperry Univac headquarters in Blue Bell.

His son, Jonathan Gorchow, described him as a strict but loving father who always put his family first.

“He was a wonderful role model in every way: as a father, as a business professional and as a religious and charitable man. He was very easy to love and admire,” he said.

J. Presper Eckert, co-developer of the first electronic digital computer ENIAC, and Grace Hopper, computer scientist and naval officer, reported to Neil Gorchow during his career. He helped develop Disneyland and Disney World animation systems and created early software for the French National Railway Systems and Lufthansa Airlines.

Jonathan Gorchow said his father advocated to make his field more accessible. He was an early champion of women in the computer industry, known to recruit coders from the corporate secretarial pool. He spoke at conferences and called for companies to make computer software more user-friendly.

He was struck by his father’s humility throughout his career.
“With all of his significant accomplishments and achievements, he never talked about himself. Even when we would ask him questions, he would understate his role in whatever he was doing, and give credit to others, and that’s something we all learned from and greatly appreciated,” he said.

Neil Gorchow’s daughter, Sheryl Gorchow-Stuart, agreed that he didn’t talk much about his accomplishments, but remembered being allowed to stay up late to watch the space launches he helped orchestrate.

She said her father’s volunteer work and commitment to education inspired her to pursue careers in the nonprofit industry and higher education. Neil Gorchow served on the advisory board of Temple University’s Graduate School of Business (now Fox School of Business) and was a founding board member of the Hebrew Free Loan Society. He was a member and president of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, where he enjoyed attending morning minyan, and had leadership roles with the affiliated Solomon Schechter Day School (now Perelman Jewish Day School).

His children were proud to join him on the bimah for Shabbat morning services during their summer breaks.

“He expected us to take Hebrew school seriously, or as seriously as our regular school studies,” Jonathan Gorchow said.

Gorchow-Stuart said her father was traditional in many ways, but always willing to be flexible and supportive.

“When I was in college — I went to college locally at Haverford — I brought a whole group of my girlfriends home for seder one year, and I brought home a feminist Haggadah. And he cheerfully helped me lead a feminist seder,” she said.

Neil Gorchow and his wife moved to Sarasota in 2008. The couple traveled widely, and he pursued his passion for golf with family and friends until the pandemic.

In addition to Jon Gorchow and Gorchow-Stuart, he is survived by his wife, children Julie Levine and Bruce Gorchow and 14 grandchildren.; 215-832-0729


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