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Punch-Card Love

Stanford Quad

MATCH GAME : Fialer and Harvey started the Happy Families Planning Service

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By Christine Foster

In a world where Match.com, eHarmony and other online dating services are staples of single life, a handful of Stanford alums are pretty sure they did it first.

In 1959, Jim Harvey, ’58, and Phil Fialer, ’60, MS ’64, enrolled in Math 139, Theory and Operation of Computing Machines. The draw: getting to do a project using Stanford’s IBM 650 mainframe computer. The pair chose to try their hand at matchmaking and put together questionnaires for the Happy Families Planning Service. The students were limited to five or 10 minutes on the mainframe, so they initially were able to run the punch cards for only 10 couples. But with the help of some lock-picking skills, Fialer and Harvey returned to the lab late one evening and ran the data for the rest of the questionnaires—a total of 49 couples.

The “dates” met up at a party hosted by Fialer and Harvey at their rented house on Los Trancos Woods Road in Portola Valley. A few of the pairings were unfelicitous: the computer matched a freshman from Wilbur with a divorcee with two children who lived in Los Trancos Woods. None resulted in a long-term match.

Commercializing the idea never occurred to them. “I wish I could have had the foresight,” says Harvey, whose career was in aerospace engineering. “Maybe I would have been a Google or something.”

A few years later, a similar experiment had a different outcome. Egged on by a friend, Marlyn Anderson, ’65, responded to an ad in the Stanford Daily for another matchmaking experiment. One of her matches was Gordon Keating, MD ’67, a shy, gentle psychiatrist-in-training. The couple married the summer after he finished medical school. They still have the printout that Gordon got from the experimenters.

The details of the match have grown foggy with the passing of years. Neither remembers where their first date occurred (“Was it was a French restaurant, do you remember, Gordon?” Marlyn asks. “I thought it was Italian,” her husband answers) or whether the matchmaking was a sociology or psychology department project. “It’s hard to remember the beginning,” says Marlyn Keating, now director of fiscal services for a school district in Washington. “We’ve evolved and influenced each other and have developed a shared view of the world.”

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