Judy Butland obituary

Other lives: Software engineer who devised a range of computer tools

My wife, Judy Butland, who has died aged 78, developed computer graphics software for scientists and engineers, first working in academia and then starting her own successful company.

Judy lived all her life with arthritis, and never talked about it. She held to the view of Epicurus that, whatever your circumstances, you should find something you can be thankful for and enjoy, and go for it 100%.

Judy was born and brought up in Leeds, West Yorkshire, the daughter of Gordon Whiteley, a draughtsman, and his wife, Margaret (nee Thomson), a seamstress, dinner lady and chip shop potato peeler.

Between the ages of 12 and 14, Judy was confined to bed in Wharfedale children’s hospital, away from her family. Her doctors never talked to her about her illness and she was angry about that for the rest of her life. She coped by developing a protective shell. She could never tell a lie. She was a blunt woman.

She attended Cockburn high school, then studied maths at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. She stayed the full three years but did not deign to answer questions in some of her finals because she thought they were of no interest. Her first job after university was as a technical abstractor, writing summaries of articles and papers on science and engineering.

In 1967 she was taken on at Manchester Business School as mathematical assistant to Winifred Hackett, an aeronautical engineer. Hackett suggested that she might see whether computers would be useful for her work. The day Judy attended a lecture on the principles of computing, she knew that was what she had been wanting to do since discovering Pythagoras in hospital. She immediately understood how to structure a problem in soluble parts. She loved the challenge of generalisation and simplification.

In 1970 the University of Bradford created a personal post for her, to improve significantly the quality of programming in research projects. In her spare time she developed a comprehensive set of easy-to-use tools to produce a variety of technical charts. These were made freely available to universities all over the UK.

When she became deluged by requests for her software from other countries, she founded the company BUSS Ltd, and the software became known as Simpleplot. Soon the company was making enough money to take on staff. They were the best people imaginable – completely committed to what Judy was doing.

She published a number of academic papers, including one on drawing a smooth curve through an arbitrary set of data points, which became known as Butland’s algorithm.

Judy was rude, stubborn, difficult to work with, arrogant and good at her job. People loved her because she was completely transparent. She was good at thinking a problem through and finding a neat and watertight solution.

She and I met in 1961 and married in 1964. We were exceedingly well suited.

Judy is survived by our son, Philip, and me.

David Butland

The GuardianTramp

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