My grandfather on my mother’s side, David Reich, lives in New York City, New York where he founded and is currently involved in a block association focused on helping the older people in Bloomingdale, a neighborhood on the Upper West Side, feel part of the community. Before that, he worked at IBM for more than thirty years as a researcher at the Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York.
Every day, David Reich is reminded how much the world changes. He was born on November 19, 1938 in a two family house in a residential neighborhood of Brooklyn. He lived with his mother, father, and younger sister on the bottom floor. His aunt and uncle lived on the second floor. He remembers a man with a horse and a wagon coming to collect junk put out at the curb. When he was ten years old, New York City was hit by a large blizzard that cancelled school and left snowdrifts taller than he was, but, as he mentions, “[he] wasn’t very tall at the time.”
Excepting a few summer jobs, David has worked exclusively at IBM. He was hired as a full-time employee in 1963 after a brief internship, and was soon transferred to IBM’s first research lab (and the current headquarters of IBM Research), the Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York. The research center (and IBM’s artificial intelligence) is named after an early CEO of IBM, Thomas J. Watson. At Yorktown Heights, he helped scientists submit jobs for the computers to process. Computers then were “very large machine[s] in [very] large room[s].” After about a year at IBM Research, David became assistant to the director of the laboratory at the time. He scheduled meetings, got reports written, and anything that the director needed done. Eventually, David went into various work involving the computer programming at Yorktown Heights.
David received a BA in Engineering and Applied Physics and a BA of Science at Harvard. At the University of Michigan, he studied in a communication sciences program, which was a combination of math, linguistics, psychology and electrical engineering. This was because “at the time people thought of computers as mechanical brains, so it was considered appropriate to study how human brains worked as well.” There were few computer science courses available at Harvard at the time, and the rapid evolution of technology at IBM Research meant he learned almost everything during his 35 years there. When asked what advice he had for young people, he talked about the importance of taking every opportunity to learn, in school and in the world.
David worked at IBM for about 30 years before “retiring” in 1993. IBM wasn’t doing well financially, and they were offering large retirement bonuses to older, higher paid employees in order to hire younger, less expensive workers. For the most part, David enjoyed working at IBM. He describes it as “being in a university, but [with] a lot more resources.” IBM had lots of people that cared about what they were doing, and worked well as a team. This shows just how much he values community and education. Just after he left, his boss hired him back as a part-time consultant, which quickly became a full-time job. After about five years, he decided to actually retire and leave IBM.
While working at IBM, he lived in Hawthorn, a New York suburb 15 minutes north of Yorktown. When he retired from IBM, he was divorced for about four years, and decided to move out of the suburbs after he met his partner, Susan. When he was packing and preparing to move, one of his neighbors leaned over the fence and told David how he was “such a good neighbor, we never knew you were there.” David felt a lack of community in the suburbs, one of the things that spurred him to move and later to found BAiP. “People wanted everything to be quiet. They didn’t want to know you were there.”
When David moved to New York City, he was immediately involved with the local block association and started taking on various jobs. Eventually, he became the chairman of the West 102nd & 103rd Streets block association in Bloomingdale, his riverside Manhattan neighborhood. Some years after David was involved with the block association, he and several others founded Bloomingdale Aging in Place (BAiP), a non-profit organization that focuses on the older residents of the Upper West Side.
Always on the hunt for new knowledge, David is currently auditing a course at Columbia University about how people are living longer, and how society needs to adapt to that. One focus of the class is loneliness among the elderly, something that BAiP works to prevent in the neighborhood. David thinks that “[One of the] great things that BAiP does is bring people together so they actually get to know each other, because they’re in groups doing things that they like to do, such as talking about books, going to movies, or playing ping pong. People then get to really know each other, and the chances of people simply being alone in the world—and there area a lot of people in our neighborhood that live alone—and feeling lonely, are reduced.” Today, David is involved in doing “office work” for the organization, however he attends chair yoga and ping pong classes regularly.