Tim Keen made a huge impression on me when I was in my early 30’s and I have many happy memories that I’d like to share with you dear readers. My guess is that he was in his late 30’s when I first met him and probably early 40’s when he sadly passed away due to an unexpected heart attack.
Tim was the Managing Director of Keen Computers Ltd which was a major supplier of sophisticated Novell fileservers, configured with (then) large hard disk drives with a full duplex driver software modification well before Novell themselves managed it.
He also designed the first rack mounted units (before Compaq) that had a passive backplane with slots for CPU/memory cards, network cards and disk controllers for the fileservers, separate trays for the disk drives and for application servers/communication gateways.
I believe he came from a very wealthy family and from memory his father was a senior director at a house builder, perhaps George Wimpey. He was very intelligent too, I can’t remember the exact topic of his thesis but I know he had a PhD.
I also recollect he raced with Tiff Needell of Top Gear and Fifth Gear fame in his youth and that showed with his love of fast cars. Simon Clayton remembers he had a Jaguar XJS V12 as well as a Morgan Plus 4 sports car. He crashed the latter when a lady driver pulled out in front of him & I remember Tim eventually arriving by taxi at 56 Southcote Avenue in a rather shocked state, before being picked up by his wife and going home.
He also had a Bentley Turbo Mulsanne parked at his beautiful house but unfortunately I can’t remember where it was located. He had a private hospitality box at Ascot races and I went in an old charabanc from his house to the races and back as his guest, I seem to remember having quite a lot of champagne!
Sometime in the mid 90’s he told me he was fed up of the pressures of running his own business and that he’d been accepted to become the Head of Computing at Sheffield Hallam University which was trying to engineer closer links to the computer industry. He subsequently arranged a joint MSc course with Novell I recollect.
We kept in touch and once he was established he offered to sponsor my application to do a part-time PhD in Groupware having known about my frustration at not being able to afford a part-time PhD in High Energy Physics at Birkbeck back in 1981. This time I was blessed by an employer (Pfizer) that paid all my fees and gave me an extra 2 weeks holiday a year to help with the required research and Tim became my supervisor.
I remember going up to Sheffield on at least two or three occasions, staying at his new “house” at least once. In reality this was a rented farm in the Peak District shared with his wife and two adolescent children & where Tim also had a herd of woolly, long-horned highland cattle.
I can still remember the shock of hearing about his heart attack, he wasn’t overweight at all and never smoked, I guess it was just one of those terrible things. In any event I decided I couldn’t continue my doctorate.
Writing this blog so many years later I was very pleased to see two recipients of the Tim Keen Memorial Award at the Sheffield Hallam School of Computing, the last still being awarded in 2013.
Sadly, apart from retrieving a couple of hard copy photos currently packed away ready for our impending move, I have not managed to find out any more details about this most remarkable man.
Tim RIP you’ve not been forgotten.