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Passing of Chuck Barlow

February 28, 2008
by vciotti
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A sad note at HIMSS yesterday: word spread of the passing of Chuck Barlow, founder of McAuto's Health Services Division )HSD) in the 70s which ran a pioneering shared system in the 70s and morphed into turnkey minis in the 80s, for thousands of US hospitals. Anyone who worked at McAuto during those halcyon days will remember Chuck's fatherly presence, working long hours to protect his beloved HSD from the vagaries of the giant airplane company parent. Chuck was always available to talk to troops from the field, personally mentored dozens of young managers who later became leaders in the HIS industry, and fiercely proud of his HSD team and products. Chuck's health deteriorated over the years to where he was recently in a nursing home, probably bemoaning the lack of decent IT there... Along with Jim Macaleer of SMS and Walt Huff of HBO, Chuck was a founding father of our HIS industry and will be sorely missed.




I was putting together my life story for my family, initiated by a West Chester University project to document the lives of some seniors in the community. I came to the part about my years at McAuto and was referring to Chuck Barlow. I wanted to link that part to something on the Web, which is how I came to your blog (we had met on several occasions).

I joined McAuto from GE Medinet in the early 1970s, initially as a salesman, then as Northeastern Manager of Customer Service. Between 1976 and 1980 I was located in the St. Louis headquarters as the Marketing Support Manager and finally (and briefly) responsible for international marketing operations. I had acquired the last position as a result of accompanying Chuck Barlow on sales mission to the Emirate of Kuwait. On the return from Kuwait we returned through London, and I had the good fortune to introduce Chuck to some of the top people in the UK National Health Service, contacts I had made because I had previously worked for Jordan Baruch who was then Jimmy Carter's Undersecretary of Commerce for Science and Technology. I wrote McAutos plan for penetrating the UK market.

I was deeply troubled by Chuck's having to protect HSD "from the vagaries of the giant airplane company parent". Just before I left, that management had forced a $38 million mainframe data center on Chuck at precisely the time when it was becoming appent that the intelligence of the computer needed to be pushed out to the client. Minicomputers had already reached their prime, and I became aware of the next generation, 'the mighty micro' when I was in the UK. My family was about to move to the London area (we were looking forward to that) when I got an offer to join Coopers & Lybrand as a management consultant (I subsequently created my own firm, Electronic Cottage Associates which soon was involved in pure development).

I had immense respect for Chuck as did everbody who knew him. I must have been an immense disappointment to him, and I was equally disappointed to leave. On the other hand, I recognized that the heavy hand of McAuto management and ultimately the airframe management people could cause the demise of McAuto HSD and I would be stranded in the UK with too many years under my belt to make a good move.

You know more about the ultimate fate of McAuto HSD to determine whether my decision was correct, and there is little point in looking back. I have been able to relish those days with McAuto and the people with whom I worked and the people I met. Those memories have been particularly rewarding as I write my story which I am calling, Reflections on an Ordinary Life.

It is good to hear from you through your blog. I hope that all is going well with you.

Phil Duffy