If you have ever called the O&B finance help desk, you have probably talked to Linda Thorne. You probably noticed her cheerful greeting, “Finance helpdesk, Linda speaking…”, (see the video clip) but didn’t realize that friendly voice belongs to one of the Lab’s longest tenured workers and a woman who started her career elbow-deep in the guts of the massive computers of the day. Known by her current workers for her warm and caring personality, solution-oriented customer service and morale-boosting homemade desserts and pasta dishes, Thorne has made a career of solving problems and helping others.
Thorne moved with her family to the Livermore area at nine years old when her father, an engineer, took a job at Sandia National Laboratories. After receiving her associate’s degree in business data processing from Chabot College in Hayward, Thorne followed in her father’s footsteps by starting a job, also at a national lab, but across the street from his.
However, having “no patience” for becoming an engineer like her father, Thorne chose instead to go into the up-and-coming world of computer science. She secured a position as a computer operator in the Computing Directorate and would go on to work on Lab computers including the CDC 6600 and 7600 systems, the Octopus Network, which combined elements of the two, the futuristic Cray-I system with its sleek design and more. She spent her days working on the mass storage systems, processing data by hand, hanging tapes and loading 50 lb. rolls of paper into the high-speed printers to keep things running for many research projects over the years. Later, while working for NIF under supervisor John Wade, Thorne learned a lot about not only how the computers were constructed but of what she was capable when faced with a challenge.
“John could have ordered the computers pre-assembled, but he liked knowing everything was being done by his team and to his liking,” she said.
She started with the empty shell of a computer and installed everything by hand including ethernet boards, disc drives and any other part Wade required.
“I didn’t know how to do any of that until I got there, but he wanted the computer done a certain way, and he knew I could do it,” Thorne said.
It was the opportunity to problem solve and be involved with research that drew Thorne to computing. In her time with the directorate, she worked on every major computer center across the Lab including the TID Library, AIS 7600 (which she managed), AVLIS, the planning systems for NIF and finally Finance where she was on the production control team.
Thorne’s love of helping people led her to the O&B Finance Help Desk in 2001. As a help desk accountant, she has felt especially fulfilled when her research has uncovered ways for organizations to increase efficiency and loves being able to give people good news.
“The idea is to problem solve with the folks who call me for help in a way that lets them know I care,” she said. “It may be a stressful situation they are dealing with, so I keep it casual, and we always figure it out together. I just love helping, and I’m grateful I get to do that every day. I really do love this job.”
A coworker and former trainee of Thorne’s, Eric Romo, recalls a time she saved a few new employees and students from missing their paychecks due to outdated addresses. Thorne had the savviness to scoop the erroneously addressed checks from the outbox and re-print and correctly label them to avoid a lengthy re-issuing process that could have delayed the group’s payday by a week. Romo says it’s not just customers Thorne goes above and beyond for.
“Whether it’s delicious homemade food for birthdays or keeping her cool when we’re all overwhelmed by phone calls or tickets,” Romo said, “Linda always remembers her coworkers.”
Thorne has had many memorable moments in her 48 years at the Lab including meeting her husband, David Thorne, who at the time worked in controlled data.
“He had to fix all the computers that I broke so we got to know each other over the years,” she laughed.
Thorne also distinctly remembers watching President H. Bush’s helicopter land on-site and being part of the crowd to welcome his motorcade during his visit to the Lab in 1990. Before that, she got to meet Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan, stars of the 1982 SciFi movie “Tron,” which had scenes filmed on-site at the Lab.
Perhaps Thorne’s most treasured memory as a Lab employee was just last year when none other than Kim Budil visited her office in Trailer 6475. She appreciated how the director had stopped by, with no entourage or fuss; she just wanted to visit to say hello and to thank the Finance team for their hard work.
“In all my time at the Lab, I have never been able to talk one-on-one with a director,” Thorne said. “With Kim, what you see is what you get, and that’s like me — I’m a T-shirt and jeans girl, too.”
Linda and David Thorne have a daughter who teaches high school English in Anaheim and have rescued many cats over the years. Thorne looks forward to retirement when she can spend more time with her family, practice photography on her new DSLR camera and hopefully travel to Italy where she can learn more about traditional Italian cooking.
Learn more about the history of LLNL’s computers here.
— Amy Weldon
casonhua1 [at] llnl.gov