Merritt Elmore

Merritt Elmore, an educator and early computer scientist, died Jan. 22. He was 91.


A son, brother, husband, father, teacher, friend, uncle and cousin, Elmore was gentle, curious, dignified, modest, precise and determined, and his life reflected his wide array of interests. His quiet sense of humor surprised and delighted those who knew him well.


He was born in Berkeley in 1926 to parents Louis Albert Elmore and Helen Bernice (nee Mitchell). His father was the son of Merritt and Emma Elmore, who moved to Sonoma County from Kansas in 1888. He developed a deep affection for Sonoma County as a young boy when he attended sixth grade at Vine Hill School and during summers spent on his uncle's ranch near Forestville. At the ranch, he and his cousins established lifelong friendships as they enjoyed swimming in the Russian River, picking apples and making ice cream. After World War II started, Elmore volunteered for a YMCA program that sent teenagers to help the war effort by harvesting fruit from orchards in Santa Clara Valley, at the time a major agricultural producer. After graduating from Berkeley High School, he attended a semester at Cal, before being drafted. He joined the Navy, where he was trained as a radio operator. He was deployed in the Pacific towards the end of the war, including a short stint at Kwajalein Atoll. After the war, Elmore continued his education at UC Berkeley, where he completed a masters degree in mathematics.


He taught high school for two years in Geyserville, before joining the staff at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) to develop simulations of atomic reactions. Before his security clearance came through, he wrote a program called LMO to turn simulation results into printouts, which was hailed by Admiral Grace Hopper, among others, as one of the first compilers, a program that translates human-readable instructions into machine code. His work programming the Univac at LLNL led him to relocate briefly to Southern California for employment with Ramo-Wooldridge (now part of TRW). He joined the faculty of San Jose City College in 1955, where he taught in the mathematics department until his retirement in 1995. He used his experience with computers as a teaching tool. With his colleagues Donald Conway and Florence Lovaglia, he wrote and published an algebra textbook that was used nationally, and after translation into Spanish, internationally. Teaching allowed him summertime to explore the natural world close to home as well as further afield.


In the summer of 1958 he built a small cabin near Lake Tahoe, which served as a base for many activities through the years: hiking and backpacking, beachgoing, wiener roasts, art classes and cabin projects. He also spent time in Europe, including a six-week bicycle tour in 1958 and a year-long sabbatical attending university in Munich, Germany in 1962-1963. With the Sierra Club, he led backpack trips into the Sierra backcountry, and on one of these trips he met his future wife, Marion. They were married in 1970, and had two children, Andrew and Katie. They lived in Los Gatos for many years. In 1997, Elmore and Marion moved to Sonoma County. They took on many projects together, traveled and enjoyed each other's company. Elmore loved his part of West County with its mix of old apple trees, coyote brush, oak trees and deer trails. He took walks, observed birds and was a frequent visitor to the Public Library in Sebastopol. He liked to sing and play the piano. He also enjoyed being close to his Elmore cousins who lived in the area.


He leaves behind a wife of 46 years; son, Andrew and his wife Ameena; daughter, Katie; sister, Celia; brother, Dana; and many nieces, nephews and a large number of cousins. Elmore's spirit lives on in the hearts of those he knew. The family is very thankful to the Memorial Hospice, Dr. Ian Anderson and Dr. Gregory Rosa for their help and support. Remembrances may be made to Memorial Hospice or Sonoma Land Trust.