Maurice Legg

Chapter 10    The United States

    As I noted earlier. I’d found a job with Raytheon, a prestigious electronics company in Boston . We moved by car towing all of our worldly goods in a U-Haul trailer. Shades of my grandmother’s journey from Stoke to Durham pushing a perambulator. We weren’t sorry to leave Montreal , a town where snow was on the ground for 4 months a year: we left in the afternoon on Feb 15th 1959 and the temperature was 19 below zero. We left some good friends; Jack Fancie gave me an unsolicited $200 just In case I run out of money! We’re still friends.

One of the problems with my new job was that Raytheon was a US military contractor and I needed a US secret clearance to work there. My boss was Bill Caithness who now lives in Florida and has been a good friend ever since. He and I planned that I would work at an old “wood mill” owned by Raytheon where I could enter without a clearance. Since I couldn’t work on anything secret, Bill and his staff prepared 10 problems for me to solve and left me to it. If I’d solved those problems I wouldn’t have won a Nobel prize but I certainly would have made a big name for myself! I looked at the problems for some days and then spent most of the next few months in the libraries of Harvard and MIT trying to come up with something. I moved from the wood mill into Raytheon’s Research Labs and by the end of 10 months, when my security clearance finally arrived, I’d done enough and additionally had learned a vast amount about microwave electronics. It was a very trying time for me since I worried that eventually I’d come up short. My security clearance finally arrived. The FBI had visited my father in the north of England , Dick Shield in California and tried to find someone to talk to in Thames Rowing Club. Of course in the rowing club, worried that I’d committed a heinous crime, nobody admitted to knowing me for some hours and they sat around drinking at the bar until someone put them out of their misery. Then I started working properly on my first assignment which was to further develop a low-noise klystron amplifier that powered the transmitter of the Hawk Missile system. I did two other assignments there and also learnt how to write early computer programs. I was always keen on educating myself and realised that there was a future in computing. Bill, and his colleagues were not threatening – I’d been worried that they’d be super clever but they turned out to be a very nice group of people. What went wrong, why did I leave? This is beginning to look like a resume and this is always a hard question to answer!  Bill Caithness, my boss, was younger than me and very ambitious and he had antagonised some of his bosses (a skill he had in spades) He decided to move on: eventually he started his own company, ran it successfully and then sold it for $3 million. He then started another low technology company, aiming to become even richer, bur that wasn’t nearly as successful. In the 3 years or so that I was associated with him I learned a lot and we did some exciting projects. When Bill left Raytheon, I realised that I had decisions of my own to make.

We’d made progress on the domestic front! Our first house, which we rented, adjoined a funeral parlour in Andover , Mass. We enjoyed living there and had nice neighbours one of whom Pauline became head of South London Poly with 50,000 students and was eventually Baroness Perry. Margaret liked the concept of the film “Cheaper by the Dozen” and wanted 12 children and, in our first 18 months in Andover , we had two new babies, David, born in a Lowell hospital and Pete born in a Winchester Hospital . Early on we had 4 children in diapers at the same time and it must have been very sporty indeed. Fortunately the memory for pain is short and both of us looked back on those early years with unadorned pleasure. I think we needed a larger house or it was too far from work. Whatever the reason for moving, Margaret, who should have listed her hobby as real estate, found a rented house in South Boston on the seashore and we moved. The location was spectacular in the summer and fall but in the winter it was diabolical. One morning we woke up to a furious storm and a very strong on-shore wind had blown ice from the frozen sea and formed an ice wall 20ft high within 30ft from the house. The ice wall saved us and protected the house for being blown away. Nothing like it had been seen before. A house close to ours had been covered with spray (and lobsters) and frozen solid. Fortunately nobody was home as these were normally summer places. The basement of another house nearby was flooded, the water froze and didn’t unfreeze until the following April. We were lucky and knew it and we reacted by buying our first house for $16,500 in Wakefield , Mass. We were happy there and both Margaret’s mother and my parents stayed with us and helped particularly with the new baby, David and later with Peter.

The company which Bill moved to was a small hi-tec company in Harvard Square called Baird Atomic. They had won a largish contract (for Baird) to design and build 5 payloads for the MIDAS satellite system, a system for detecting enemy missile launches. This evolved into the so called Star Wars system and still doesn’t work 50 years later! Baird had no experience with military contracts and recruited Bill to provide that expertise. The first task was to change the ethos of the company which really was run more like a university department than a business. Bill recruited me as his assistant and we were involved rather quickly in a fight with the diehards within the company who wanted to preserve Baird as a small cosy, family.  Walter Baird, the founder of the company, didn’t show much leadership and Bill eventually lost his battle and I forget whether he was fired or resigned. I had a lower profile and stayed somewhat longer as the engineering manager of the satellite system. I was in some ways a puppet manager as my strings were being pulled by people who knew the technology better than I did but didn’t want to work on military work involved in the mundane business of meeting schedules and cost targets!

By then I was earning $23,500 and had complete confidence in doing a big job and I set about finding the one which would meet my career objectives in the longer term. I had choices: the key skill in those days was a knowledge of radar and similar sensor based systems and the military market place was humming. The New York Times on a Sunday had two job supplements and one could expect to leave one job on Friday and start another maybe in Florida or the West Coast on Monday with all moving costs paid for and at an increase in salary.  I looked for a newish, largish, multinational, high technology company: we liked the Boston area and we had to consider school systems and climate. We had no thought at that time of returning to England , in fact we enjoyed Boston and had a new house.

The “cold war” between USSR and the USA was at its worst with hundreds of nuclear missiles on both sides aimed at each other and the talk was of the safety of MAD or ” Mutually Assured Destruction” and  “Will the survivors envy the dead?” This sort of discussion was no more intense than in the so-called “Think Tanks” of which MITRE, which I joined in the spring of 1962, was one. MIT had decided after the war that it should stop its military work and go back to being a university and had spawned MITRE. MITRE was particularly competent in the application of computers to radar systems such as air traffic control and early warning radar systems. Such systems as GPS, a global positional system now in commercial use was conceived there initially because the position of Moscow with respect to the USA was not known well enough to shoot a missile accurately. Another system was the precursor of the internet, conceived as a communication system which overcame the problem that, if there was a missile attack on the US , everyone in the US would pick up their phone and the phone system would go down.  My boss had conceived of a satellite in a unique orbit over the north pole which lasted for two days most of it spent at altitudes of between 10,000miles and 25000 miles and I designed the satellite for the system This satellite was  able to relay messages from America to Europe in the post - attack phase. It had unique features and found favour in the Pentagon but was never implemented.

Chapter 11... To Paris
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