R.I.P. Bill Godbout, 79

Bill Godbout, a legend in the S-100 community for his 1970s-1980s work at Godbout Electronics and CompuPro, perished November 8 due to the Camp wildfire in Concow, California. He was 79.

There is a family-led GoFundMe campaign to support their needs in this difficult time.

Godbout was an important advocate for the industry-standard S-100 bus in its early days, as well as being a parts supplier for electronic music projects, according to 1970s microcomputing expert Herb Johnson.

Godbout was born October 2, 1939. He talked about his introduction to computing in an interview with InfoWorld magazine for their February 18, 1980 issue. “My first job out of college was with IBM. I served a big-system apprenticeship there, but I think the thing that really triggered [my interest] was the introduction of the 8008 by Intel,” he said. “I was fascinated that you could have that kind of capability in a little 18-pin package.”

Steven Levy, in his book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, wrote about Godbout’s Silicon Valley electronics business. “Bill Godbout… bought junk on a more massive scale — usually government surplus chips and parts which were rejected as not meeting the exacting standards required for a specific function, but perfectly acceptable for other uses. Godbout, a gruff, beefy, still-active pilot who hinted at a past loaded with international espionage and intrigues for government agencies whose names he could not legally utter, would take these parts, throw his own brand name on them, and sell them, often in logic circuitry kits that you could buy by mail order.”

“For those of us who lived and did business in the East Bay during the opening years of the personal computer revolution Bill was a friend. He operated Bill Godbout Electronics from a Quonset hut on the margins of the Oakland Airport,” explained Lee Felsenstein, associated with Silicon Valley landmarks such as Community Memory, the Homebrew Computer Club, Processor Technology, and Osborne Computer Corporation. “Bill was a friend and ally to the operators of the first generation of personal computer businesses that grew up in that early period.”

“My only direct interaction with Bill took place in 1979 after Processor Technology closed its doors. I was trying to peddle the next generation VDM card but Bill asked me to design and prototype a simplified VDM-1 S-100 card — I did so but he didn’t take it further for his CompuPro line of computers and add-ons,” Felsenstein said. A year or two later, “He was a member of the poker group that included Adam Osborne, George Morrow, and Chuck Peddle, and made a bet there that Adam would not ship his Osborne-1 computer on time. He lost that bet, but it was a real squeaker — I was involved.”

“Bill put on no airs — he was always ‘one of the guys’ and dealt in a straightforward way — this is worth noting for a time just after the opening gun when a new field often brings forth poseurs, popinjays, and pure phonies,” Felsenstein added. “Bill was none of those and we are all distraught to learn that he was taken from us in this terrible way.”

Budding engineer Mark Graybill got a job assembling clocks and other electronic gadgets at Godbout’s Oakland facility in 1976. “I’d jump on a bus after school, go down there, and originally I’d go in and work at an assembly station. I was lucky to be in the area at the time. It was cool to be doing something in electronics,” Graybill recalled. “He was kind of like the friendly uncle who’d let you take the sports car for a spin and laugh when you crashed it… I’ll remember him as the guy who trusted a 14-year-old kid with a sackful of hundreds of dollars of RAM because it was too difficult to take the bus down everyday.”

33 comments:

  1. Oh Uncle Bill,STUBBORN to the end! I love you so much,thank you for everything. At least I have soooo many great memories! RIP,see you on the other side!Suzi Rose

    1. You made a world of computing available and understandable to a disabled young man. Your lecture on the s100 I attended in the late 70’s and the subsequent talk after affected me for the rest of my life and kept me in computing. You made a GREAT system and I loved every minute I had with it.

      Thanks for being a great teacher and salesman.

  2. I remember those old Quonset huts at oakland airport with godbout and mike quinn– those were good days. you could buy a redstone rocket engine or parts to a satellite.. it was great!!
    may you be happy peaceful and free

  3. Bill Godbout was indeed quite a character in the early days of personal computers. I was led to him by my old friend and high-school advisor (the late) Jerry Pournelle who told me Bill had the latest parts. Not only was Bill located in an old Quonset hut away from the already nondescript Oakland Airport, but he shared the building with others and the doors weren’t marked. You just knocked and eventually Bill answered and sold you what you needed. And his boards worked! Note that many of the ones that were advertised not only didn’t work, but often didn’t even exist. The advertisers hoped they would get enough responses (and money) to build them. It was a wild time, but we all had lots of fun. I still get an occasional inquiry or response at a conference with regard to books I wrote at that time (my favorite was a guy who stared and stared at my badge and finally blurted out, “I thought you were dead!”).

  4. Uncle bill taught me the art of cooking. I spent several holidays with the family at his house in Hayward California Many years ago.Going to miss you uncle Bill RIP 🙏🏻☝️💪💜

  5. Saddest news ever today… Worked there from ’77 to ’82.. pitching kits, soldering, testing, dining at the hyatt… flying with Louise to Reno to pick up boards.. Wonderful memories of Morrow, Mullen, the gang… Bill was the glue that kept us all together. Heart as big as the sun. RIP, Bill.. thanks for the memories…

  6. My first 8″ floppy drive was ordered from Godbout Electronics, back in the late seventies/early eighties. I was building a Digital Group Z-80 system and had ported the CP/M BIOS to their floppy controller, keyboard and display. I couldn’t afford the DG dress cabinets nor their floppy drives and enclosures, so I took a chance on ordering a bare 8″ single-sided, single-density floppy drive (all 240 KBs of storage!). It worked flawlessly for years, and I was always grateful to get good value for my money from Godbout. He was always a straight shooter.

    RIP, Bill.

  7. I was fortunate enough to work for Bill during CompuPro’s heyday. I was a young woman who he trusted as Controller and later V. P of Finance for his company and he NEVER failed to support me. There was a lot of sexual harassment and discrimination in those days but not at CompuPro and not with Bill at the helm. We all played poker in our conference room on Monday nights and I really learned the game. R.I.P. Bill – you were truly a modern pioneer and founder of what became the computer revolution. You also could teach the current Administration of our Government how to respect WOMEN, DIVERSITY and INTEGRITY. We will miss you !

  8. I had a small electronics store in Berkeley. Bill was to me an inflection point as Andy Grove
    would say. Much of my success was due to Bill. I tried, in the last few years to find and properly thank him. He was very hard to find. A belated Thank You Bill.

  9. I remember a couple of wonderful fun dinners with George & Jean Morrow and Bill Godbout. Can’t remember who else was there bc between George’s & Bill’s stories the rest of us had ample opportunity to eat but not talk. I do remember at the first dinner Bill refused any kind of alcohol drink. He said he had to fly his plane the next morning. I thought, gee, one glass of wine wouldn’t affect him tomorrow, would it? The 2nd dinner he had a glass and said, Well, someone else will have to fly the plane. So sad to hear of his passing. The passing of an era.

  10. I knew Bill through my association with Mike Quinn Electronics, who shared a barracks building at the airport (not a quonset hut!) with Bill in the early days. Bill was a regular at Quinn’s until the doors were closed for good in 2006. Whether gathering parts for his latest project, or talking about his grandkids, or Ardenwood or the Niles Canyon Railroad where he did volunteer work…and Bill *loved* to talk… it was always a pleasure to see Bill, and I treasure those memories. Rest in peace, Mr. G.

  11. My most enduring memory of Bill Godbout was flying with Gary Kildall to meet with him in Oakland on the morning of the infamous day of the IBM meeting in Pacific Grove. And YES we did return and met with IBM, contrary to the perpetuated falsehood. Bill’s CompuPro machines were our favorite S-100 machines at DRI !

    Here is a paragraph from “They Made America” by Harold Evans (with David Lefer), page 411:
    “This is where the myth begins. In his memoir, Kildall is quite specific (and Rolander confirms) that he arranged to meet the (IBM) Project Chess team on Friday afternoon. Knowing and explaining that he had a previously scheduled business trip on Friday morning (visiting an important P/M distributor, Bill Godbout, at his factory in Oakland) …”

    1. Interestingly and coincidentally, I was just talking to a friend of mine earlier today about Gary Kildall, his company of Digital Research, and that ill-fated tale of him missing out on IBM, when I was telling him about the history of DOS, CP/M and PCs/early micromputers. I didn’t know that was a falsehood that seems to have been floating around in computer history lore for a good while (IIRC, Thomas X. Cringely’s PBS documentary “Triumph of the Nerds” erroneously tells that false story of Gary being out flying and only his wife being around to talk to the IBM execs and being reluctant to do so without legal counsel present, yada yada, IIRC.). Thanks for clarifying this!

      1. Oops. Gary was, of course, no longer with us in 1995 when that show was made, so I got that story from Jack Sams, who led the IBM contingent that day in Pacific Grove. I guess is was a mistake to trust Jack’s recollection (he eventually had Alzheimers, by the way). But Jack’s story was confirmed by Gordon Eubanks, who claimed to have been there that day at DRI and we verified parts of it with the lawyer, whose name I can’t remember. Certainly IBM arrived early and that was a big part of the problem.

        In fact, looking back at the show transcript, what we said was that Gary didn’t arrive until late in the afternoon. So we had him there, but IBM arrived in the morning and they spent hours arguing over the onerous IBM NDA.

        Alas, I never knew Godbout, though I certainly remember his ubiquitous S-100 ads.

  12. Bill contributed to my life in many ways – especially by feeding skills he saw. That created a path that I followed for years. He loved Cherries Jubilee cooked in Grand Marnier for dessert. Loved taking Crag Anderton and me out to dinner. A good decade of Bill Godbout back it the day at the Oakland Airport mail order business then on to CompuPro. I can’t remember the name of the company he changed it to then just faded away. I didn’t know he was still alive. he kept telling us he would not live deep into his 60s. I like seeing the photos on the GoFundMe site of Bill happy with family. Last I knew he didn’t see family as being a possibility so happy to see he achieved that! Rest in Peace Bill – you contributed to MANY people’s lives!!!! You deserve a rest!

    1. Vesta & Craig.. yes.. Bill changed my life, took a chance on hiring me. Helped me in innumerable ways.. and how we all connected—I, too, was happy to see he had created a family. Utterly distraught over his passing in this way…

  13. Bill was largely responsible for my career path. I was dirt poor and buying parts to build musical projects. One day he said “Hey, you’re an artist, can do you an ad for Radio Electronics? I need to go to Canada to buy a bunch of 8008 processors.” I didn’t know a thing about creating ads, but needed the money and said yes. So I did an ad, and it looked so out of place compared to everything in the magazine that it got a HUGE bingo card response. He figured I must be some kind of marketing genius, so Vesta Copestakes and I ended up doing catalogs and ads for him for years. He also provided parts kits for a book I wrote called “Electronic Projects for Musicians,” much of it fueled by his expertise drawing circuits on cocktail napkins at the Hyatt (remember Heinz Steffens?). That book not only put me on the map, but got a lot of companies started in the music industry…it wouldn’t have happened without Bill. I am so sad to hear that he was taken in such a cruel way. But he never thought he was going to live that long, so at least he made it to 79…rest in peace “Sweet Old Bill,” you changed the world in more ways then you EVER could have realized.

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