American Veteran 01

James Donald Bishop

September 27, 1933 ~ August 25, 2021 (age 87)
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James Donald Bishop was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on September 27, 1933, at about 3:00 PM.

His parents grew up in or near Cordell, in western Oklahoma. Their families had emigrated from Tennessee by way of north Texas. His father, James Oscar (J.O.)  Bishop, was born in 1897 in Cleburne, Johnson County, south of Fort Worth. His mother, Winnie May Buchanan, was born in 1895 in Turnersville, Coryell County, about 50 miles SSW of Cleburne. Turnersville was also known as Buchanan Springs. 

Winnie’s family was Scotch-Irish, her earliest American ancestor was born in Ireland and died in America in the late 1700’s. Both families moved to the Cordell area when Oscar and Winnie were children. Raised in a strict Presbyterian family, Winnie remembered playing near a creek when a crawfish emerged from its hole. She was terrified, believing she was seeing the Devil.

Don remembers being told that his parents left Oklahoma shortly after their marriage, and they returned only for family get-togethers. In 1933, J.O. sold life insurance. Soon after, they moved to Topeka, Kansas, and J.O. began a successful career selling mutual fund investments.  The family moved to Johnson County, Kansas (Shawnee-Mission), about 1940.

Don was educated in Westwood View school and Shawnee-Mission Rural High School, now Shawnee-Mission North. Don joined most of the students in the “Pep Club”. They wore red and black cord jackets (made by mothers) on which many displayed their letters. Don lettered in band. He was a group leader for the percussion section, played jazz bands in the annual musical shows, and in the “pep band” at basketball games. He was vice-president of the band as well. He played in a couple of dance bands and remembers a picture of the musicians clad in burgundy blazers, looking very serious. He was also something of a science whiz, president of both the Chemistry and Physics clubs. He was known as a good dancer.

A very important person in Don’s life was his brother, Jack. Jack was elven years older than Don and was a WWII fighter pilot. Hero stuff. Since their father traveled continually, Jack was the man in Don’s teenage life. He taught Don about gun safety, driving, liquor, clothing, and less successfully, girls.

Probably through the initiative of the Principal, Don was admitted to Cal Tech. This was a difficult experience: classes always had been easy in high school, but the course load at a top engineering and science university was overwhelming. Additionally, he found the liberal arts courses much more interesting than calculus, chemistry, physics, and technical drawing. Near the end of the second quarter, he decided to withdraw, worked for his father through the summer, and enrolled in the University of Kansas School of Business.

Don joined Theta Chi Fraternity- a very unusual chapter whose founding members were navy veterans. They ran a tight ship.

Graduating during a recession, Don found a job with TWA (Trans World Airways) keeping seat reservations by hand in a large ledger. The planes frequently had departed before his group received notice by teletype of seat availability.

Don’s airline career was cut short in January 1957, by the draft. His draft board was in California, and the letter contained instructions to report locally. He determined that his training would be either Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, or Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Neither sounded like a good place to soldier in the Midwestern winter. If you knew the right people, you could drive a new car to California, where cars were more valuable. The only cost was the gas. His brother arranged for a Cadillac, he found a couple to share driving, and a few days later, reported to the Los Angeles induction center. He was sent to Fort Ord, near Monterey, California, where he remained for his two-year service.

Back to 1957, or the previous two years, Don and Patricia Carey had an exclusive relationship. They met in college, at an afternoon event called an hour dance. Patricia had dropped out of college for financial reasons, moved to Shawnee-Mission, and found work as the secretary to the Psychiatrist at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. After Don’s induction in the Army, they decided that it was time to commit, and were married during Don’s post-basic leave. They moved to California, and found an apartment in nearby Pacific Grove, where they remained for the rest of Don’s two-year service.

With Don’s separation date approaching, they learned that employment opportunities in the Monterey peninsula involved working in motels or restaurants. They decided that plan B was San Francisco, and Don found a job as a “Programmer” with a major bank, while Patricia started work in an insurance agency.

San Francisco was a heady experience for a couple of kids from Kansas. Restaurants, bars, museums, and hills beckoned. Patricia’s aunt’s family lived across the bay, and they were welcoming and helpful. But Don’s job was frustrating; he never got closer to a computer than walking past it, and his work was mainly clerical, maintaining trust accounts and reports on punch cards. He trained himself to wire the instruction boards on several machines and decided that this was where his talent and interest laid. They packed a trailer and headed back to Shawnee-Mission.

Don was accepted into the brand-new MBA program at the University of Kansas, his alma matter. In a parallel to his Cal Tech experience, he learned that the quantitative analysis part was not of much interest, and he informally majored in Social Psychology. He completed his coursework and had a research site to do his thesis on social effects of technical change in an organization. The organization backed out and Don’s thesis advisor became ill and was expected to be away from work for several months.

An intervention came in the form of one of Don’s high school buddies, who was working at McDonell Aircraft Company’s automation center in Saint Louis. He said that McDonell was looking for entry-level programmers. Don joined McDonell and received initial training in programming from IBM. It was an exciting place to work for a science fiction fan. They worked in the basement of the factory: F4 fighters were assembled upstairs, and the Mercury spacecrafts were being constructed down the hall. Patricia also worked at McDonell, as a secretary in the Flight Test group, working with some of the hottest pilots in the country. A big jump from Coffeyville, Kansas. Working in the same building, Don and Patricia could often eat lunch together. Their first child, Anne, was born in this time.

McDonell received the latest and greatest IBM business computer: the 7080, which replaced the vacuum-tube 705. This machine was the first one delivered to a customer. Don was assigned a program that replaced an older one and was the first programmer to complete a program on the new computer. He believed that he was the first person outside of IBM to write a program on the 7080.

Don caught the attention of the manager of Financial Systems and became a Systems Analyst. This put his accounting knowledge to work without having to do accounting, and he learned a lot about specialized world of aerospace accounting and finance. Don believed from grade school that arithmetic was an activity that was not fit for humans, and he was happy that computers were available for those tasks.  

James Donald Bishop is survived by his significant other, Diana C. Bright, of nine years; his ex-wife, Patricia Bishop; his two children, Anne A. Kelly and Bruce Buchanan Bishop; and one grandchild, Morgan Schrieber. 

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Graveside Service
October 1, 2021

1:00 PM
Fort Logan National Cemetery
3698 S. Sheridan Blvd
Denver, CO 80236

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