Niels Ivar Bech's death after years of struggle with personal crises and illness invites to serious reflection, even far outside that circle who got to know him personally as a leader of genius. His life was closely tied to a belief in an independent, strong, Danish and European development of computer equipment. His death indicates the failure of this idea with almost uncanny precision.
Niels Ivar Bech found his life task when in 1957 he was appointed Director of Regnecentralen, a non-profit organization established shortly before by Akademiet for de Tekniske Videnskaber in Copenhagen. In this position he showed in the following years his great abilities as a leader. Starting from a passionate belief in the ability and potential for creative contribution of each employee, combined with an equally strong belief in the potentials of computers, and untiring energy and determination, Bech was able to attract a rapidly growing staff, who under his leadership were able to make contributions that caused international attention. Among the results of this activity may be mentioned: application of the computer DASK to a long series of technical and administrative problems, development and production of the computer GIER, participation in the development of the international programming language ALGOL 60, and development of ALGOL compilers for both DASK and GIER. For the employees Regnecentralen during this period became a place of work characterized by uniquely inspiring teamwork, with Niels Ivar Bech as the ever present, attentive and productive initiator, an environment that to many of us in later years is remembered as the ideal conditions of work.
Then the time of adversity came. The establishment of Northern European University Computation Centre (NEUCC) shattered Bech's dream of a close collaboration between Regnecentralen and the Danish universities. Regnecentralen was reorganized as a corporation, with more stress on commercial considerations. Bech untiringly continued his efforts within the new frame, and he succeeded in having RC 4000 and its operating system developed. But this was not sufficient. The tough winds blowing in the international computer market, in combination with lack of understanding within Danish public service institutions for the long-term importance of an independent local activity within the field, undermined the economy of Regnecentralen. In addition, Bech's health began to give way. In 1971 the blow came, Niels Ivar Bech was fired as the director of Regnecentralen, a blow from which he never recovered.
Niels Ivar Bech's personality held depths that even those who were closely connected with him found unfathomable. Always ready with help of any kind to his collaborators, he was himself, in a deep sense, unable to accept help. His last years thereby became tragic. But no one who got to know him during the good years will ever forget him. As a leader of men he was a genius.