Jay Last, a tech entrepreneur and one of the pioneers who helped shape Silicon Valley, died this week in Santa Cruz, California, after a brief illness. He was 92.
Last, who was born in Birmingham, Alabama, also died at the same hospital where he sought treatment for a number of health issues last fall.
A father of four, Last co-founded IXOP, or Integrated Telecommunication Systems, in 1964 with three former Hewlett-Packard employees: Gordon Bell, Edward Colligan and Douglas Mills.
The four-person company sold its first product, a software system for cost-optimized travel, to a major hotel chain just two years after it was founded. The success of the company prompted a high-stakes bidding war that would set the stage for Bell Laboratories to form a partnership with Xerox and Douglas County to form Xerox in 1977.
In a 1996 interview with Businessweek, Last explained how IXOP came to be born:
“Bell in 1967 had developed something called xerography, and he knew it could revolutionize computer publishing. He showed a 10-pound cartridge to me and said, ‘Don’t put this through the shredder.’ We looked at each other and said, ‘What do we do? We had to use xerography — it’s the technology of the future.’ “
After Xerox’s acquisition of IXOP, Last, Bell and Colligan would form Bell Labs.
Nicknamed ‘Papa,’ Last also became a venture capitalist. He started with the Lanxess Corp. in 1971, co-investing in the company’s first project, one of the world’s first automated money-counting machines. In 1973, he left Lanxess and joined McAfee Corp., where he was chairman and CEO until he retired in 2008.
Several years later, Last was inducted into the Science and Technology Hall of Fame in 2003. The San Jose Mercury News, where Last was a former board member, said that when the selection committee asked him for his thoughts on being inducted, he replied, “I can live with being the little guy to the big guys’ and saying, ‘Heck, I made my point.'”
In a 2017 article that appeared in Frontiers in Human Sciences, Last was remembered as an entrepreneur, scientist and philanthropist.
“Last viewed humanity as one interdependent entity with deep roots across time and space,” he wrote. “He believed in mutual interdependence and the search for solutions that shared the common ground of humanity’s individual and collective interests. To Jay, science was not something distant from our society but at its core a tool that could bridge those divides. He saw science as an enabler of research and a tool for social change.”
Last remained very active in his later years. He continued writing personal columns for the Silicon Valley Business Journal and was a science writer for Scientific American, helping launch Science Friday and conducting a series of podcasts on human intelligence and cognitive biases. He also helped guide the $20 million gifted to education research by George Soros.
His company, Last Associates, worked with Google on more than a dozen projects, including the speaker search app and the product recommendation engine called TrueView.
He was an honorary member of the National Academy of Engineering and the Santa Clara Valley Business and Science Forum.
In addition to his wife, Mary, survivors include his four children, including Richard Last and his wife Catherine McIntyre. Last was preceded in death by his wife, Miriam Last, and his son, Douglas Last.