Manager of Engineering, Texas Instruments Consumer Operation, 1979 - 1983
Lee Kitchens, a Texas Instruments retiree well known for his technical expertise and success in recruiting engineers for Texas Instruments, died suddenly on May12, 2003 in Lubbock, Texas. He was 73.
He was manager of engineering for the TI consumer operation from 1979 through 1983 when the company was building TI-99/4, TI-99/4a and TI-99/8 computers were produced. He related how he walked up and down the table top to get everyone's attention. This is one story from Lee that no one doubted.
He was the manager of engineering for the consumer operation of Texas Instruments when the company was building the computer from 1979 through most of 1983. Knowing the inner workings, he had utmost confidence in the machine. "Oh, yeah. I mean it was the greatest thing since sliced bread.
"The problem was that most of them [computers] required some esoteric programming language that nobody understood. But with this thing, you could plug in one of the plug-ins and run a program."
"You could expand the memory, you could put a printer port on it to drive a printer, you could put a serial port on there to put a joy stick on. It had several accessories that were developed over time."
Kitchens remembers the machine sold in its original form of the 99/4 for $1,150 each. At the end, in its 99/4A version, the machine was being sold for $49.95. Kitchens thinks it has lasted so long because of the manufacturer's near perfection mentality.
"TI was a stickler for quality. Quality was just an environment. Out heritage was military electronics, so we designed for rugged environments." Kitchens said the monitors supplied with the 99/4A were built by a television company, and some of the first ones didn't survive shipment."Our requirement was that you had to be able to drop that thing, in the box, three feet and open it and it would still work." Once that packaging flaw was corrected, the 99/4A could be expected to arrive in operating condition.
Hundreds of thousands of the computers were made for the U.S. market.
Kitchens is proud of the work put into the computer, which can still run respectably in a race dominated by the high-media versions of today."I think we did one heck of a job."
Lee, along with Bill Gaskill, was a keynote speaker at Fest West '98 - Lubbock. Lee was very well received.
Kitchens's claim to wider fame, though, came from his role as a founding father of Little People of America, the largest organization in the world for dwarfs and their families. LPA was founded in 1957 by the late actor Billy Barty; but Kitchens was at the group's second meeting, in 1960, and was one of LPA's most involved members right up until his unexpected death. A former national president, he was vice-president of membership when he died.
Lee with his personal TI-99/4A computer in February of 1998.
Click below to view a video of Lee Kitchens giving his Keynote Address at Fest West '98 - Lubbock in February, 1998 (Courtesy of Bruce Maret of Video 99. Note that the first 10 minutes show pre-speech footage.
Inducted into the TI99ers Hall of Fame on March 7, 2004