BOSTON -- Rear Adm. Grace Murray Hopper, the feisty mathematician who prodded the Navy to remain at the forefront of the computer age, retired Thursday at age 79 as the oldest commissioned officer on active duty.
'I've loved every minute of it,' the frail-looking Hopper told ceremonies attended by 250 people, including Navy Secretary John Lehman, aboard the Navy's oldest commissioned warship, the 188-year-old USS Constitution.
The majestic vessel was nicknamed 'Old Ironsides' for its durability in the face of British cannonballs during The War of 1812.
Called 'the grandmother' of the computer age, Hopper enlisted in 1943 to use her Yale math doctorate at the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University. The project devised the Mark I, the first large-scale digital computer.
Over the next 43 years, on active duty or in the reserves, she worked in private industry and academia developing advancing generations of computer languages.
'I'm the very last of the WAVES to leave active duty. To this day I am a 'Woman Available for Volunteer Emergency Service,'' she said in accepting the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Department of Defense's top award.
During her years developing the UNIVAC I, the first commercial large-scale electronic computer, for the firm which is now the Sperry Rand Corp., she was credited with developing COBOL, one of the first computer languages.
She also gets credit for the term 'bug' for a computer program glitch.
'We are just getting started on the computer age,' said the diminunitive, bespectacled Hopper, dressed in crisp Navy white blouse and slacks. 'The phrase I dislike is, 'We've always done it that way.'
'We need to tell young people, 'Go ahead and do it.' It is much easier to apologize than it is to get permission,' she said in urging more leadership and less management in government research efforts.
'We must provide the leadership. You manage people. You lead people,' said Hopper, who twice has been spared mandatory retirement by congressional decree and was promoted to admiral in 1983 by President Reagan.
Hopper complimented Lehman as 'one of the few people in the Department of Defense who knows that it's not enough to buy hardware, but that you've got to have the people.
'We ought to give him a Tall Ship,' she said, noting the Coast Guard has one but the Navy does not.
'If there is a curse of our age, it is the 'depersonalization' of the bureaucracy,' Lehman said. 'It is the individual within this depersonalized system that makes history, like Grace Hopper.'
After praising the 'uniqueness of her vision, her feistiness and her youth,' Lehman said Hopper, whose latest contribution to the Navy was standardizing its desktop computer system, would remain a consultant to the Navy secretary.
'And I am confident I won't even have to ask,' he added, giving Hopper a kiss on the cheek before she was presented a bouquet of 43 red roses by the commanding officer of the Constitution.
Hopper, who retires as a special advisor to the director of the Naval Data Automation Command in Washington, was also named Thursday the first fellow of The Computer Museum by its director and president, Gwen Bell.