From the moment I first saw Gail Wellington in Dave Haynie’s “Deathbed Vigil” video about Commodore’s demise, I knew I had to learn more about her. The more I’ve learned about her, the more I appreciate what an amazing human being Gail is. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about Gail as much as I’ve enjoyed putting this post together.
Gail Wellington was born in Yonkers, New York in 1940 as the oldest of three children. Her father worked for the Wonder Bread bakery and her mother was a homemaker. Her mother had wanted to be a school teacher, but she graduated from high school during the Great Depression and her family wasn’t able to afford college. Gail’s mother, not having been able to become a teacher herself, wanted to see Gail pursue a career in teaching.
Gail’s family moved to the Boston area in between her junior and senior year of high school which meant she had to finish her final year of high school education at a new school: Malden High School near Boston, MA. When she went to register for her new school, it was still assumed that she was on track to become a teacher, though it wasn’t a career choice that particularly appealed to her. Not only did her parents want her to pursue a career in teaching, it was 1950s America so the advisor she was speaking with naturally assumed that she would be following a teaching or otherwise “female-appropriate” career path, and intended to sign her up for purely academic language/arts curriculum. Gail refused. She didn’t want to take a third year of Latin, and the alternative was a math/science track. Although she had avoided these at her previous high school, she thought it might be better than Latin. It was a cool day in Boston so Gail was wearing a blazer which happened to have her National Honors Society pin on the lapel. Upon seeing her lapel pin, her advisor relented and enrolled her in chemistry and physics courses. It was during Gail’s senior year of high school when she was taking a physics course that convinced her she wanted to be an engineer.
College, marriage, children and early career
When Gail graduated from high school she enrolled in college at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. Her parents were still hopeful that she would get a teaching degree but they allowed her to study engineering, assuming that when she started a co-op job in the engineering field she would realize her mistake and fall back to teaching. Her grandfather, very uncharacteristically for a man born in 1892, had taught Gail that aside from jobs that required brute strength, a woman could excel in any career just as well as a man. Gail set out to obtain a degree in mechanical engineering.
Gail’s first job during her freshman year of college was a co-op position working in the drafting room at Itek, a Boston company that made scanning cameras for very high altitude photography. It was at this job where Gail met the man who would become her first husband.
While still in college, her next co-op position was working for Raytheon in their missile systems division. In this role she was writing material handling procedures, safety procedures and other similar documents. She expressed an interest in doing more technical writing to her manager. Impressed by her performance, her manager recommended her for a technical writing role and the next day she had an offer to work as a technical writer at Raytheon beginning the next semester. This technical writing experience would later help Gail land her first job at Commodore.
Before finishing college, Gail put her academic ambitions on hold to marry the man she met at Itek and began a family. They had two children together: a son and a daughter. Once her children became school aged, Gail re-enrolled at Northeastern to compete her studies and graduated from Northeastern University in 1971 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Technology with a minor in Mechanical Engineering.
The Commodore Years
Humble beginnings as a technical writer
Gail’s marriages didn’t end up being lifelong commitments. By 1981 Gail was married to her third husband. Gail relocated to the United Kingdom in 1981 to join her husband who had to move there for his job. Upon settling in her new home, she saw a sign in the window of an employment agency seeking a person to do technical writing for a computer company. Gail had a background in technical writing and enjoyed the work so she applied. The hiring company ended up being Commodore Business Machines (U.K.) Limited in Slough. Gail interviewed for the job and had a gut feeling that the position was going to be hers, but Commodore hired another applicant. Fate intervened, however, and the candidate they hired never showed up for the job. Gail Wellington was hired by Commodore UK to work as a technical writer on June 1, 1981, reporting up through Bob Gleadow who was the general manager of Commodore UK’s Slough office. Gail’s direct manager was a man named Pidgeon (referred to by the team as Bird Man due to his surname). Pidgeon reported to Rod Wellburn and Rod reported to Bob Gleadow.
Gail’s first assignment was to write a manual to describe how to write software manuals. Commodore was heavily reliant on third party software companies to write PET software because software drove the sales of their PET hardware. Commodore needed to establish consistency and quality standards for their software manuals. Soon after completing that assignment, Gail was placed in charge of writing user manuals for third party software being published by Commodore. Gail observed a recurring problem in this role: the people writing the software and the people writing the manuals for the software weren’t in regular communication. Often, the writers would receive a “finished” piece of software and work through documenting it only to have a new version of the software delivered to them that was fundamentally different than what they had already documented. This contributed to much wasted effort and last minute stress for Gail’s team. Despite the fact that it might put her out of a job, she wrote a proposal whereby each technical writer would be paired with a QA person who would act as a liaison to the external developer. Unfortunately, Gail’s proposal sat ignored on Rod’s desk. Rod was famous at Commodore for having piles of documents on his desk that he never looked at. Gail had a friendly relationship with John Baxter who ran Commodore UK’s marketing department and she told John about the problems she was trying to solve and the proposal she wrote that had been ignored by her manager. John Baxter told Bob Gleadow about it and Bob snatched the proposal off Rod’s desk one morning. The next day, Gail and Rod were called into Bob Gleadow’s office to discuss the proposal. Having read the proposal already, Bob asked Gail some follow up questions about how things would work. Satisfied, Bob looked at Rod and asked, “Who is going to fire Pidgeon, you or me?” With that, Gail was appointed Head of Software Operations for Commodore UK. This was her first chance to really prove herself at Commodore.
Head of Software Operations at CBM UK
The Slough office where Gail and her team worked was located in what’s called a trading estate in the UK. In the United States we’d refer to it as an industrial park. It was a building at 675 Ajax Avenue that was primarily intended to be used as warehouse space with a small, two story section of office space located at the right and front sides of the building. Upon taking occupancy of the building, Commodore’s solution to the lack of office space was to section off about a third of the warehouse space and carpet it. This provided for a large open space in the building with the mail order catalogue group located at one end and the software team at the other. There were no walls, partitions or cubicles of any kind.
Gail sought to make the best use possible of the space her team was given. She designated a circular conference table to be the team’s private space and meeting area. Because nobody had a private office, if a team member needed time to work on something without interruption, they’d sit at this table. To accommodate her proposal of improving communications between the tech writer and developer, each new software project was assigned a team consisting of a primary documentation person and a quality assurance person who acted as a liaison to the external developer. As new teams were formed they would move their desks to a new spot in the office where they’d work together for the duration of a software project. The desk relocations were frequent enough that one of Gail’s team members complained, to which Gail replied, “When a woman is frustrated or depressed she does one of two things: goes shopping or rearranges furniture. I don’t have time to go shopping.”. Gail’s proposal was remarkably effective and Commodore UK became an early software powerhouse within the company.
Jack Tramiel officially formed Commodore International’s software division in the United States in April, 1983 and put Sig Hartmann in charge. Sig’s first major initiative to increase Commodore’s presence in the software market was to launch 70 titles for under $100 each for Commodore’s new Commodore 64 computer. Commodore intended to announce this as part of the 1983 Summer CES show. Gail was already well established in the software business so Commodore UK was a major contributor to this initiative. Gail’s strategy was to avoid cannibalizing VIC-20 software sales which were still strong. The VIC-20 was largely a gaming computer so Gail focused heavily on productivity and educational software, but also contributed a few games. Some of the titles that Gail contributed were Easy Script, the well known word processing package which she purchased from Precision Software, Intro to BASIC, Gortek and the Microchips and Andrew Spencer’s International Soccer.
Commodore Electronics Limited, international distributor support
Commodore began toying with the idea of opening a manufacturing plant in the UK in May, 1983 when they opened a pilot factory in Corby, Northamptonshire. Commodore was already employing around 200 people at their pilot factory by March of 1984 when they announced plans for a £20 million expansion project to build a permanent 230,000 square foot factory at Corby with capacity to assemble up to 200,000 computers per month. With the opening of the new Corby facility, Commodore was closing the Slough office. Bob Gleadow was transferred to the Hong Kong Commodore Electronics Limited office and Gail was offered a position with Commodore Electronics Limited at their Maidenhead office where she would support Commodore’s international distributors, reporting directly to Bob Gleadow.
Commodore’s structure in 1984 was that Commodore Electronics Limited was the principal operating entity of the Commodore group of companies. CEL reported directly to the parent company, Commodore International Limited. CEL was responsible for all aspects of producing finished goods including forecasting, purchasing and coordinating manufacturing. Commodore set up sales/marketing subsidiaries in Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, Canada, France, Austria, Norway, Denmark, Australia and Belgium. These subsidiaries were 100% owned by Commodore but operated as independent companies reporting up through Commodore Electronics Limited. In addition, Commodore set up a worldwide marketing group located in the U.K. under John Baxter and out of the United States headed by Jim Dionne. The U.K. marketing effort focused on Eastern Block countries, India and Africa. Jim Dionne focused on Central America and South America. These worldwide marketing groups would sell product to independent distributors in their home markets and each independent distributor had a network of dealers they would distribute product to for retail sale.
Gail’s role was to provide software sales and support to the independent distributors which were under John Baxter’s purview which included Thailand, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Greece, Israel and South Africa. Her support role included things such as coordinating with distributors to help companies adapt software to the native languages in their local markets.
Amiga Development and Launch
In the spring of 1985 while at a CeBit show, Bob Gleadow asked Gail to travel to Los Gatos, California for three weeks to work with Commodore’s Amiga development team. Commodore had purchased Amiga Corporation in August 1984 and their revolutionary Amiga computer wasn’t yet ready for production. Commodore-Amiga, Inc was created and new office space at 983 University Avenue in Los Gatos, California was set up to house the new team from Amiga Corporation. Commodore marketing on the East coast of the United States would be joining the effort with the original Amiga engineers on the West coast to bring the new machine to fruition. Gail was needed to act as a liaison between the West Coast and East Coast project teams, and to keep management on each coast informed as to their progress. Gail arrived at the new Commodore-Amiga West Coast offices in March of 1985 to begin what would end up being over three months of work instead of the originally agreed upon three weeks. After the initial three weeks had passed, Gail was in a meeting with VPs from the East Coast and West Coast and she asked how long she would be in California. They asked Gail if she needed to return to the UK since her initial three weeks was up. “No”, Gail replied, “I need to know if I’m going to need to purchase summer clothes or not. I don’t need summer clothes in the UK so I don’t have any with me.”. Wanting to make sure Gail remained involved, they said, “Gail, take the afternoon off today and go to the mall to buy some summer clothes.”
As the Amiga launch date loomed, the engineers were working at a frenetic pace and Gail’s travel schedule became equally frenzied as a result. For the final five weeks leading up to the Amiga launch event she would fly overnight Tuesday from Los Gatos to New York to meet with representatives from Caribiner International during the day on Wednesday. Caribiner was the company Commodore hired to produce the Amiga launch event at Lincoln Center and Gail was actively involved in coordinating and planning the event. When she wrapped up her Wednesday meetings with Caribiner she would take the train to Philadelphia and then be driven to West Chester, PA to meet with Clive Smith on Thursday to provide status updates. Finally, she would fly back to Los Gatos on Friday and work over the weekend. Everyone involved was working seven-day work weeks leading up to the launch of the Amiga. One day after a particularly grueling week, Gail got off the plane in Los Gatos and told her secretary, “That’s it! I’m going to eat. Then I’m going to sleep. Then I’m going to wake up and eat again. Then I’m going to sleep again. You’ll see me when I wake up after the 2nd time.”
The Amiga launch event took place at Lincoln Center in New York, New York, USA on July 23, 1985. It was a lavish event with celebrities Andy Warhol and Debbie Harry having been hired by Commodore to take part in the presentations. On the technical side of things, three brand new Amiga computers were connected to projectors that would be doing live demonstrations of the Amiga’s capabilities for the eager crowd. The Amiga video signals were being fed out to the projectors through Genlock devices which were still in the prototype stage. In fact, there were only five Genlocks in existence at the time of the launch event. It was Gail’s responsibility during the event to coordinate the Amiga operators and the projector operators. They were all in communication via headsets. The plan was that if one of the three Amigas required a reboot, Gail would have them begin projecting the display from one of the other two Amigas so the techs could resolve the issue without the audience knowing. The entire presentation went off without a hitch. A few reboots were needed, but as planned, the audience was never aware of them. One part of the presentation involved ballerina Gelsey Kirkland dancing live on stage while an animation of a ballerina generated by an Amiga computer was projected for the audience. Gail was involved in the production of the Amiga ballerina animation sequence, working with Island Graphics who created the animations.
Post Amiga Launch, returning to the UK
After the Amiga launch Gail briefly remained in West Chester, living in a hotel near the West Chester University campus. The hotel was five miles away from Commodore’s US headquarters in West Chester, PA. Gail had stuck around to assist Commodore with exhibiting the Amiga at the first round of trade shows and Commodore’s US management was impressed enough by Gail’s work that they asked her to stay in the US. Gail countered that her real value to the company was in the relationships she had built with the software houses in the UK and she proposed that she would instead return to the UK and begin building developer interest in the Amiga. Gail returned to the UK in October, 1985 to continue working for the Commodore Electronics Limited UK marketing group.
Upon arriving back in the UK, Gail immediately began to strategize how she could ignite developer interest in the fledgling Amiga platform and she quickly recognized that a developers conference would be the perfect vehicle. She asked her secretary, “How quickly can you organize a get together for about 300 of my closest friends?”. The answer to that question ended up being 8 weeks. In early December, 1985, the first European Amiga Developers Conference took place at the Grande Hotel in Eastbourne, England. Over 300 people from 100 different software companies paid £325 each to attend the three day event.
The first night of the conference had a Victorian theme. For the dinner service the waiters were dressed formally and all meals were served with exquisite silver plate covers. Everything on the menu was named after a Victorian character. The second night was a “futures” night that featured green cocktails with Amiga boing ball stirrer sticks. Gail wore a leather outfit and spiked her hair. A synthesized voice on an Amiga announced dinner that night: “ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served”. Everyone was initially served 3 smarties candies for dinner as a joke, foretelling that dinners of the future would consist simply of pills. After the joke was revealed, the actual dinner was served. Everything on the menu was named after people from the Los Gatos Amiga team. Ironically, they did not have Beef Wellington on the menu.
The members of the Amiga development team were each given a silver jacket with the Amiga Boing ball logo on it. There were black jackets created also, but the silver jackets were reserved exclusively for the original team. The original Amiga development team flew to the UK to attend the conference and brought Gail’s silver jacket with them, but it was somehow lost at the airport. For the duration of the conference, Dale Luck shared his silver jacket with Gail, which she kept at the end of the conference and still has.
Evangelizing the Amiga and becoming the Worldwide Amiga Product Manager
Still working for the CEL international marketing group, Gail remained active in the continuing promotion of the Amiga. She coordinated the activities of the country support managers, product introduction and developer support programs. Given that her role had international scope, the job involved international travel, typically for the purpose of doing Amiga demonstrations. Gail visited eleven different countries in 1986, including a visit to the Soviet Union. The Cold War was ongoing and relations between Western nations and the Soviet Union were tense. The UK Software company Mirrorsoft was one of Gail’s contacts and they were involved in English/Soviet trade. Incidentally, the popular videogame “Tetris” had been created in 1984 by Soviet software engineer Alexey Pajitnov and it was Mirrorsoft who would bring the first commercial release of Tetris to the market, including to the Commodore 64, in 1988. In early 1986 Mirrorsoft organized a meeting between Gail and a group of key engineers from the Soviet GKNT, the Soviet State Committee for Science and Technology, for Gail to present the Amiga. Gail does not speak Russian so a Russian translator was provided for her presentation. Two things became clear to Gail during this presentation: The first was that the translator didn’t understand computer terminology well enough to translate it from English to Russian. The second thing was that the engineers in the audience seemed to all speak English. Each time the translator made an error in translation, engineers from the crowd would yell out corrections.
During her visit to the Soviet Union, her activities were organized and overseen by a Soviet handler. This was common practice due to the Cold War relationship between Western nations and the Soviet Union. Gail’s handlers took her to see the Bolshoi performance of Don Quixote at the Kremlin theater and to a hockey game between Russia and Finland.
Commodore Applications and Technical Support (CATS)
Commodore’s senior management recognized Gail’s contributions to the company’s bottom line and her strengths in promoting the Amiga product line. In October, 1986 Gail accepted an offer to return to the United States to become the Worldwide Amiga Product Manager. 1987 saw Gail continue her globetrotting ways evangelizing the Amiga, but she moved back to live in West Chester, PA in the United States and was now based out of Commodore’s 1200 Wilson Drive headquarters in West Chester, PA. Gail had a true passion for demonstrating Commodore’s products, going back to her earliest days with the company and starting with the Commodore 64. She loved to see people’s faces light up when they’d see what Commodore hardware could do. Doing Commodore hardware demonstrations wasn’t just a job for Gail; It gave her personal fulfillment.
Because nobody had back-filled Gail’s former position when she left the UK, Commodore’s international distributors were now left without a support system. To remedy this, Commodore’s Chief Operating Officer Henri Rubin chose to tap Gail’s knowledge and experience to form a new department in October 1987 named “World-Wide Software and Support Group”, which Gail then renamed to Commodore Applications and Technical Support, perhaps more well known as CATS. Henri Ruben had been running the South African Commodore distributor prior to being directly employed by Commodore, and he knew Gail from her days with Commodore Electronics Limited.
CATS could be thought of as the aggregate of Gail’s experience at Commodore. Everything she excelled at during her prior six years with Commodore was combined into a single team that she was responsible for. CATS oversaw all worldwide developer activities, ran the Amiga DevCon events and ensured the successful sale of Commodore proprietary products by creating the availability of quality third party applications software and hardware. CATS consisted of technical, administrative, marketing and evangelical staff. According to Gail, the unsung heroes of CATS were the technology group, headed by Carolyn Scheppner. Reporting to Carolyn were Dan Baker, Matt Blaze, Adam Levin, and David Junod. What made their job so difficult was that it was relentless and they never had an opportunity to finish anything. The documentation side of CATS could start on a project and work on it until it was completed. The technology folks were presented with a different technical problem to solve at any minute of any day. Before they’d finish helping one customer, there would be another one waiting.
Commodore Dynamic Total Vision (CDTV)
Gail was a female working in a male-dominated field in the 1980s, but from 1981 until 1990 this was never an issue. Her grandfather had instilled the belief in her that she could excel at whatever she put her mind to and that stuck with her. She was proving this to be true at Commodore. Aside from Gail having the confidence and ability to achieve whatever she set out to do, she never felt that anyone treated her any differently at Commodore because she was a woman. In fact, Bob Gleadow was one of her biggest supporters. Gail was given increasing levels of responsibility throughout her years with Commodore because she continued to prove her worth. In her own words, “When something needed to be done, there was no notion that a man or woman should do the job. Whoever knew how, did it. The industry was brand new and there were no assigned roles.” This changed when Mehdi Ali became the president of Commodore International in 1989. In January 1990, Mehdi brought in Jeff Scherb, a former VP from Cullinet Software, to replace Gail as the head of CATS. This was done under the guise of an overall strategy of bringing in more professional and business oriented management from the outside, but Gail believed Mehdi’s cultural beliefs prevented him from seeing her value as a leader in the company because she was a woman.
Gail was transitioned to the position of Director of Special Projects, reporting directly to Mehdi Ali. Her first project was to be the development and launch of Commodore’s CDTV home entertainment console. Commodore set up a two-story block of offices near the back corner of the warehouse area at their 1200 Wilson Drive headquarters in West Chester for the CDTV team. Gail would oversee the software side of things with her team on the second floor and Don Gilbreath was responsible for the hardware side with his team occupying the first floor of offices. New products at Commodore took on internal code names to avoid unintentional leaks to the media. The CDTV project had the code name “Gail’s Baby”. As a funny side note, there was significant internal buzz about the project so the term “Gail’s Baby” was making the rounds through the grapevine, eventually leading people to mistakenly believe Gail was pregnant.
Commodore knew the importance of having a strong software library to support any new hardware introduction so one of Gail’s project responsibilities was to get developers on board and have them start creating software. Gail had extensive contacts in the software industry so encouraging CDTV development was certainly within Gail’s wheelhouse. As the CDTV project progressed, Gail was able to once again return to her true calling – doing product demos. Gail would set up demonstrations of the CDTV at trade shows for external developers by appointment only. Initially, there wasn’t even a prototype CDTV for her to show off. Instead, she was using a mocked up version that consisted of an Amiga 500 and a separate CD player. Gail’s demonstrations were aimed at selling developers on the concept rather than showing them an early preview of the actual product. Despite this, there was tremendous anticipation among industry insiders and there would be lines of people waiting eagerly to see Gail’s demonstrations. At a World of Commodore event in the UK she was in a building adjacent to the main event, while at a CES she worked out of a trailer set up in the parking lot. The popularity of her CDTV demonstrations become legendary to the extent that a publication printed a cartoon of people waiting in line to see her demo with the caption, “which is the real tradeshow?”
Even though Gail was successful at garnering early developer interest, there was a problem for external developers: CD was still a relatively new medium and it was prohibitively expensive to create one-off CDs. Once external developers had CDTVs in their possession to allow them to begin writing CDTV software, they had no way to create CDs so they could test their software. Commodore solved this problem by purchasing a CD mastering machine from Yamaha at a cost of $125,000 with which they could create CDs as a free service for their external developers. It was one of three CD mastering machines in the United States at the time it was purchased, the other two being owned by IBM and Apple. The machine was installed just outside the CDTV office space in the back of the warehouse area. Developers would send physical hard drives to Commodore containing images they needed to have burned to CD. It took roughly three hours for Commodore to burn an ISO image to CD using the Yamaha machine, after which they’d return the hard drive and CD to the developer to allow them to continue their development and testing work.
Nolan Bushnell, famous for being one of the founders of Atari, was hired by Commodore in May, 1990, ostensibly to head the CDTV project. The reality was that Nolan’s role on the project was for PR purposes only. He was never involved in any aspect of the actual product development. Gail occasionally met with Nolan and provided him with updates so he would know what to say to the press.
The CDTV was introduced to the public in January, 1991 at the winter CES in Las Vegas. Philips was releasing their own CD-I system as a direct competitor to Commodore’s CDTV. When Philips staff visited the Commodore booth to see the CDTV they were astonished to see that Commodore had an extensive software library available for CDTV at launch. Gail attributed this to the fact that the CDTV was based on the Amiga and there was plentiful development expertise for the Amiga platform which put developers 3/4 of the way to developing for CDTV. Existing Amiga developers mainly had to learn the different UI patterns to transition to CDTV development. Philips did not enjoy this same advantage.
In May, 1991, Commodore began shipping CDTV units to stores in five California cities with a list price of $999 and a general rollout began shortly thereafter.
The end of the road at Commodore
The post-Commodore years
Prior to leaving Commodore, Gail and her daughter purchased Three Peas in a Pod Florist in Royersford, PA. Gail’s daughter was already an experienced florist and Gail took on the business side of things, but Gail was not intending for this to be a full-time job for her.
In late 1992, Gail attended a Software Publishers Association Symposium. It was a paid event, but Gail had amassed so many contacts in the industry throughout her career, she was able to attend without registering or paying. Nobody even questioned her being there because she was so well known in the industry. During the symposium Gail attended a panel discussion about interactive media. At the conclusion of the panel discussion, the panel moderator was soliciting questions from the audience when he recognized Gail sitting in the audience. He asked if she had anything she wanted to say. Gail was instantly nervous, but after gathering her composure and standing up from her chair she said, “Yes, I’m looking for a job.”. Conveniently, an employee from OptImage Interactive Services in Des Moines, Iowa was among the attendees. He approached Gail in the common area of the conference and asked for her resume. She began working for OptImage as their Vice President of Marketing and Sales in November, 1992. OptImage had been formed in October 1986 as a joint venture between R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co and Philips Gloeilampenfabrieken to provide authoring tools and related services to authors and publishers of materials for CD-I. Gail’s time with OptImage was relatively short lived. She moved back to Pennsylvania and started working with her daughter at Three Peas in a Pod florist at first part time while still working part time for OptImage. Eventually she left OptImage and began working full time with her daughter at Three Peas in a Pod Florist where she continues to work today.
Gail remains extremely active. She writes a local community neighborhood newsletter which is published in print and online. She volunteers for a group called “Art Goes to School” which does art appreciation sessions with students in the Delaware Valley and she’s the president of the board at Art Fusion 19464, a small art school. As a hobby, Gail is active as an artist, painting in pastels and watercolors. Some of her artwork is printed as greeting cards which are sold at the florist shop she owns with her daughter. Her other passion goes back to her Commodore roots. Gail is an avid fan of the Premier league Chelsea Football Club, which Commodore UK sponsored during her time in the UK.