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Evelyn Berezin

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Evelyn Berezin. Photo by Barbara Nelson

Evelyn Berezin, formerly of Poquott, died Dec. 8 at the Mary Manning Walsh Home in New York City. She was 93 years old.

She was a computer pioneer who built and marketed the first computerized word processor and the founder and president of the tech start-up Redactron Corporation, which manufactured and sold word processors.

Evelyn Berezin. File photo

Among the honors she received in her lifetime were inductions into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame in Los Angeles in 2011 and the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, in 2015.

In an interview with The Village Times Herald in 2015, Berezin said when she was younger she thought she would pursue a career in physics, not computer science.

“I got into it by accident,” Berezin said. “It was so early in the game, I didn’t know what it was.”

Berezin was born April 12, 1925, in the Bronx. She was 15 years old when she graduated from high school and went on to study at Hunter College where she developed an interest in physics. She said the day after Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, her high school physics teacher offered her a research job. Since she was 16, she had to lie about her age in order to get the position.

“Every boy in the country was given a number to be drafted,” Berezin said. “I happened to be there at the right time.”

Berezin worked in a lab while attending college at night and went on to study math at Brooklyn Polytech, physics and chemistry at New York University and English at Hunter. In the April 10, 2015, Village Times Herald article, Berezin said while talking to a recruiter about a government job she discovered that there weren’t many positions in physics, so she asked about computers, something she admitted she never heard of at the time.

Berezin went on to work for a few companies designing computers before opening Redactron.

“In 1969 I decided I would never get to be vice president because I was a woman,” Berezin said. “I decided to start my own company.”

From 1969 to 1975, Redactron grew to employ 500 workers. In 1976, she decided to sell the company to the Burroughs Corporation and joined the company as president of its Redactron division, a position she held until about 1980. After leaving Burroughs, Berezin became involved in a number of start-up companies and moved to Long Island.

Berezin became a member of the Stony Brook Foundation in 1985, according to the Stony Brook University website. She served on the investment committee and was a member of Brookhaven Science Associates, served on the board of overseers of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of New York University and held a board position with the Sion Power Corporation. She became a member of the John S. Toll Heritage Society at Stony Brook and established the Berezin-Wilenitz Endowment.

“I feel that Stony Brook has given and continues to give a great education to children from low income families and particularly to children of immigrants,” Berezin is quoted as saying on the SBU website. She and her husband of 51 years, Israel Wilenitz, a chemical engineer, also funded the Sam and Rose Berezin Endowed Scholarship, named after her parents.

“Evelyn Berezin spent a lifetime defying expectations and pushing the boundaries of what is possible, and her guidance and generosity have helped empower Stony Brook University and its students to do the same,” SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said in a statement. “Her friendship has made Stony Brook a stronger institution, and we will forever be grateful to her.”

Berezin’s husband predeceased her in 2003. Funeral services were held Dec. 11 at the Riverside Memorial Chapel in New York City.

Evelyn Berezin

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Two exceptional people, Edmunde Stewart and Evelyn Berezin, died this past week, one day apart. The funeral for one was at Bryant Funeral Home in East Setauket on Monday, for the other at Riverside Memorial Chapel in New York City on Tuesday. Although quite different, they were both well known for their talents. I was privileged to know them as friends. Their deaths leave a void for the world and a hole in my heart.

The first was a Scotsman, an orthopedic surgeon who lived for many years in Old Field and whose office was in Port Jefferson. He was 80 years old, and during his half-century of medical practice, he touched the lives of thousands of people. Educated well, he came to the United States to cap off his training, fell in love with one of the first women he met at Stony Brook — and Scotland’s loss was our gain. She was there, at his bedside all those years later, when, struggling to breathe, he finally succumbed to COPD.

Edmunde Stewart

The second was born in the East Bronx and was 93. She was one of three children raised in an apartment under elevated railroad tracks. It was so small that the uncle who boarded with them, while he finished medical school, had to sleep on a mattress under the dining room table. She was bright enough to finish high school at 15 and attended Hunter College at night while she worked. Unusually tall for her generation, she lied about her age in order to get her job. Under a World War II City University program that allowed women to study calculus and other specialized subjects at an all-male school, she then transferred to Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute and ultimately earned a degree in physics from NYU in 1946. Needless to say, she was in a distinct minority in her classes.

He, when not practicing medicine, and as a passionate lover of horses and riding, participated in the Smithtown Hunt for many years and on many wild rides through the neighborhoods. He cut a fine figure in his scarlet hunting jacket at the head of the pack. And he probably broke every bone in his body at least twice in his many falls, always with good humor during the phone calls as he related the latest mishap to his wife on his way to the hospital.

Evelyn Berezin

The other left NYU just shy of a doctorate in 1950 and ultimately found a job in 1951 with the Electronic Computer Corporation, a shop of engineers in Brooklyn. In between she married a tall Brit named Israel Wilenitz, who was a chemical engineer. She figured out how to design various computers including one that made range calculations for the U.S. Defense Department, another that kept accounts in business offices and one for an airline reservations system for United Airlines. She also built and marketed the world’s first computerized word processor. She went on to found her own computer company with two male colleagues, which was located in the Hauppauge Industrial Park, and eventually was bought out by Burroughs Corporation. For fun she loved attending cultural events, especially the American Ballet Theatre in New York City where she held a subscription. Recently she joined us with a subscription to the Metropolitan Opera.

Our best times together were probably on her back deck in Poquott, where she served us elaborate brunches of French toast, bagels and lox from the famous Russ & Daughters on the lower East Side of Manhattan and regaled us with historic events she had witnessed during her long life. She had something interesting to say about every subject, past and present, and was totally engaged in current events right up to the end. The last time I called her, she told me she had to get off the phone because she was watching “60 Minutes.”

He was also my orthopedist and shared with me a precious bit of wisdom: “You Americans feel that there should be a cure for every pain that you may feel. But the body isn’t like that. Pains, minor pains, are a part of life and can be borne without rushing into surgery to have them fixed, which is a risky thing to do in the first place.”

They were companions and their lives were an inspiration for me. I am diminished by the loss of my dear friends.

Evelyn Berezin is honored this month. Photo from Stony Brook University

A mere accident altered the life of Evelyn Berezin, and now, at almost 90 years old, she is being honored as one of the pioneers in the computer industry.

After 75 years since building her first computer, Berezin — a Poquott resident — is being honored and inducted into the Computer History Museum on April 25 in Mountain View, Calif., because of her impact on the ever-growing technology industry.

“Most people don’t know what a woman of great accomplishment she is,” said longtime friend Kathleen Mullinix, who will be traveling to the event with the woman she described as “a brilliant person of substance.”

Berezin said the best part about all of her success since logging into the computer field decades ago is the fact that she had no idea her life would turn out the way it did. She said she initially thought she would take the physics route at a young age, but it all changed for the best.

“I got into it by accident,” Berezin said. “It was so early in the game, I didn’t know what it was.”

But even though her life didn’t turn out exactly how she planned it, she said she has not looked back once since beginning her journey.

Berezin was born in the Bronx on April 12, 1925. At 15, she graduated high school and started at Hunter College, where she found an interest in physics, which was not an area of study at her all-girls school.

The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, her high school physics teacher knocked on her door and offered her a research job in the field she wanted.

“Every boy in the country was given a number to be drafted,” Berezin recalled on how she was able to get the job. “I happened to be there at the right time.”

At age of 16, Berezin lied about her age to get the job. She said her height helped her pass for 18, so she began working in the lab while attending college at night. She eventually studied math at Brooklyn Polytech, physics and chemistry at NYU and English at Hunter.

Four years later, she received a scholarship from NYU and accomplished her dream and received her degree in physics.

“It’s what I really wanted,” Berezin said.

After graduation, she received an Atomic Energy Commission fellowship while still working toward her Ph.D. Her dream shifted when she met her husband in 1951. Although the two did not have a steady salary, they decided to marry. So the search for a job began.

“I was told [there was] no way I would get a physics job in 1951 because of the Korean War,” Berezin said.

She then met someone who would forever change her life. A recruiter told her there were very few physics jobs in the government. So she decided to ask about computers, even though the industry was in its infancy.

“I had no idea why I asked,” Berezin said. “I never even heard of a computer.”

She landed her first job working for Electronic Computer Corporation for $4,500 a year — a huge increase from her previous $1,600 salary.

Before the company went bankrupt in 1957, she designed three or four different computers that were used by various companies. She then moved on to a job at Teleregister making computers that would distribute stock market information across the country.

After traveling all the way to Connecticut for her job, Berezin decided to switch jobs but stay in the computer business. She took a job with Digitronics and began designing computers with great complexity and speed.

After all her hard work, she still felt she wasn’t getting what she wanted.

“In 1969 I decided I would never get to be vice president because I was a woman,” Berezin said. “I decided to start my own company.”

It was then that Berezin’s company Redactron was born. From 1969 to 1975 she worked hard to build the company up with roughly 500 employees.

During the 1970s, the economy took a dip, when she said money was not coming in and interest rates were high. She decided to sell the company to the Burroughs Corporation for roughly $25 million.

She continued to work at Burroughs as part of the sale.

“At that time you didn’t work on the computer, you worked in them,” Berezin recalled of the large machines on which she worked.

After leaving Burroughs, Berezin spent the rest of her time getting involved in start-up companies and moved to Long Island.