In the summer of 1987, I visited John and Irene Howard in their Newton, Massachusetts, home, where I was introduced to the Applied Optics “editor’s office.” This collection of tools, built and used by Dr. Howard to administer the Optical Society of America’s 26-year-old journal during his years as founding editor, consisted of a box of index cards with handwritten names and areas of expertise, accompanied by a small collection of mimeographed form letters. The latter, with notes penned in John’s hand, were used to notify authors of the acceptance of their papers, the need for revisions, or an occasional rejection. Of course, there was much more to the editor’s office than the cards and stack of form letters, but most of the remainder resided in John’s head, in his extraordinary memory. Indeed, it did not take the three of us—Irene had long been a help to her husband in looking after details for the journal—very long to cover basic aspects of the journal’s operation, and we soon turned our attention to other subjects of interest to them and to me. One was John’s role in the creation of the public-television-sponsored series “This Old House,” which documented the restoration of old homes in the New England area. Another memory I have from that visit is of my introduction to John’s collection of Gilbert and Sullivan opera libretti. As I recall, there are 14 libretti extant, and John had (and, I presume, still has) them all. Several years later, when my son Brad was a student at MIT and performed in productions of G&S operas, John and Irene would be there in the audience.
Being young and naïve, I thought that I could improve on Dr. Howard’s editorial operation by means of computerization, and I engaged the talents of Brad, then a sophomore at Georgia Tech where I was a professor, to develop the software. He did an excellent job, implementing facility for a large and ever-growing database of reviewers and giving easy access to a wide selection of standard letters for transmission to authors, reviewers, topical editors, and journal production staff. The new, automated Editor’s Office, as we named it, was a great success, so much so that Brad was invited to Tucson, Arizona, where then-editor Harrison Barrett had him spend two days installing the software package for use with the Journal of the Optical Society of America.
Was the computerized version of John Howard’s system really such a success? I have, in fact, often wondered. I am not sure that it saved me much time as editor, for, in a process that reminds me of Parkinson’s law, the job grew to match the capabilities of this new system. But it did make the transfer of editorial responsibilities to successor Applied Optics and JOSA editors much easier, and it facilitated my temporary move from Georgia Tech to the University of Colorado in Boulder: in connection with that move, the actual paper-processing work for the journal was relocated to OSA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and operated under the capable direction of then-director of publications Jan Fleming. Indeed, in various versions and models, the Editor’s Office software package or its successor has served as the manuscript-processing core for not only AO and JOSA (JOSA A and B as they were introduced), but also Optics Letters, and, ultimately, for all of the OSA peer-reviewed journals. Some of the form letters even served as models for Georgia Tech colleague Don O’Shea when he took on the responsibility of editor of Optical Engineering.
My wife, Angela Guzmán, and I had the pleasure of visiting with John and Irene in April of last year. John, who had recently celebrated his 90th birthday, and Irene, who looked as young and fair as she did on my first visit to their home, were as stimulating to talk with as they were in 1987. Subjects of conversation ranged from the history of the International Commission for Optics; to John’s courtship of Irene at the University of Florida (it was a male-only university at that time: Irene, to John’s good fortune, was the daughter of a UF professor); to the various recordings of Brahms’ Piano Concerto no. 2, a favorite of both John’s and mine. I was pleased to be able to send them a CD recording of the extraordinary Sviatoslav Richter performance of 1960—the same year that Applied Optics published its first issue.
William T. Rhodes
Professor, Florida Atlantic University
Former editor in chief, Applied Optics