Senior profile: Senior enjoying retirement and life in Morgan Hill with grandchildren
Carolyn Wallace spent 30 years at IBM
Published in the February 15 – 28, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Robert Airoldi
Carolyn Wallace has worked with some of the brightest minds in the high-tech industry. In her humble beginnings in western Pennsylvania, she never dreamed she would be working on cutting edge artificial intelligence systems such as IBM’s Watson computer.
The family was poor. Her mother was a Pentecostal minister. Her father worked as a security guard on and off disability. One day, recruiters came to visit her high school. An Air Force Brigadier General thought she’d make an excellent assistant. He hired her at 16 to work for him in Washington, D.C.
“That was my way out of Central Pennsylvania,” she said. “I really lucked out.”
The general had a daughter who had a child out of wedlock. He looked at Carolyn as having a second chance help a teenager grow into a young, confident woman, she said.
“He took me to Capitol Hill for budget hearings, the theater and art museums,” she said. “He introduced me to a whole new world.”
She worked there until 1967 when she met and married an Army man whose father started a bank on Bainbridge Island, Wash. While her husband served in Vietnam, she lived in her in-law’s guest house. When he returned they had a child, Chris, but her husband came back with a drug and alcohol problem, she said. They divorced when Chris was 5, She went to work for a manufacturing company selling industrial electrical, heating and filtration equipment. She was promoted and took over sales for the western United States and live in Denver for two years.
While selling filters for airline simulators, she met a pilot. They married and moved to in 1977. They wanted to be near the ocean but didn’t want to commute daily over Highway 17. They settled in Morgan Hill while she still worked as a manufacturing rep and he was flying for United Airlines.
They divorced shortly after. She wanted a nine-to-five job with no traveling and was looking to get back into corporate America. The nearest corporation was IBM. She applied and got a job there in 1983 to help recruit and train people to connect research with manufacturing in the semiconductor industry. When a new CEO was hired, she was put in charge of helping him unite all 10 of IBM’s research labs.
“I helped him get an understanding through a downsizing of the research division prior to opening research up to IBM’s revenue clients,” she said. “I was in the right place at the right time.”
In the early 1990s, IBM put her in charge of client relations at its Almaden Research Lab. There she spent the next 20 years connecting high powered researchers with IBM’s clients and venture capital community around the world. “I just knew a lot of people,” she said. “I was a matchmaker facilitating client requests with IBM researchers.”
She worked with Paul Horn who oversaw the world’s most prolific research organization dedicated to information technology; Don Eigler, a physicist who specialized in low temperature scanning tunneling microscopes; Tom Zimmerman, who explored human-computer interaction; and Mark Dean who was instrumental in the invention of the IBM PC.
While at IBM she started a company called Bay Area in Style that hosted hot air balloon rides. A friend introduced her to Eric Wallace, a good-looking man who was suggested to serve as a model for their advertising campaign. The couple has been married for 30 years. Since retiring two years ago, they enjoy traveling, volunteering, the downtown and many Morgan Hill events.
Carolyn and Eric enjoy visiting and traveling with her three grandchildren. Zack studies acting at SJSU, Jake is a senior at Sobrato and Max is a Live Oak freshman.
“I’m really excited about the new restaurants, hotel and (Dan McCranie’s) project on Second Street and Monterey Road,” she said. “Morgan Hill is just a really great place to live.”