“Every so often, a person comes along who changes the way we live our daily lives, and things are never the same again. They represent a paradigm shift: they cause a permanent change in our idea of what is possible.”
–Rick Caldwell, 2016 CSIA Executive Conference
Dick Morley’s legacy as a mentor, innovator, and inspiration extends well beyond his many professional accomplishments. To me, his openness to possibility—characterized by a seemingly endless stream of “big ideas”—and his personable humility make him stand apart from other innovators across all industries.
When we first met at a trade show many years ago, I praised Dick, the inventor of the PLC, for being the reason any integrators have a job at all. “Oh, I didn’t invent it,” I remember him responding. “That was just an idea whose time had come, and I just happened to be the guy working on it.”
Dick named my company in a few moments of pondering after I had spent countless hours trying every domain name I could think of related to control systems. For him, ideas had agency and urgency. It was the innovator’s job to be open to suggestion, to have a mind broad and tuned enough to let those much-needed big ideas out into the world. For many years, he worked in a space perfectly suited to that worldview: a barn optimized for brainstorming—no TVs anywhere, just whiteboards—adjacent his rural property “at the end of the power lines” in New Hampshire.
He was a patent owner for the PLC, the floppy disk, the parallel inference machine, and the hand-held terminal among many other inventions. His interests were varied, and he knew no bounds in his professional life: he worked for the CIA on government projects requiring significant clearance, consulted on medical projects, and even at one point developed a chocolate business. His writing has been published across the world in a variety of fields, and he has been recognized with many awards, not least of which was CSIA’s first Lifetime Achievement Award for Contributions to the Automation Industry, which I presented to him at his home in 2016.
Even if he modestly downplayed his own accomplishments, Dick was very committed to encouraging the next generation of “big idea” people: Geek Pride days at the barn gave a broad platform for innovators of all stripes to share what was exciting them and to network via casual fireside chats. For Dick, the future of innovation was of paramount importance, regardless of industry, and he thought that enthusiasm for invention should be encouraged early. That is perhaps why he believed that high schools should give out letters for academic achievement: it was obvious to him that creative and intellectual innovation should generate as much excitement and guarantee as much praise as a touchdown at the homecoming game.
Dick’s professional legacy of course leaves much to be praised, and he has set quite an example. Even the short, incomplete list of his accomplishments I’ve given here I hope leaves the impression of a man who was very good at raising the bar regardless of context or circumstance. But instead of looking at his professional life as a golden, impossible-to-meet standard, I think the lasting effect of his mentorship on me will be his excitement, his openness, his penchant for big thinking, and his willingness to build with others – in short, a spirit of discovery and collaborative innovation that will continue to invigorate our industry for many years to come.
November 3rd, 2017
If you’d like to read more about Dick’s life and accomplishments, please visit our Dick Morley Appreciation Page.