Tim Barnum came to Carleton with the goal of becoming an engineer. (“Fortunately, Robert Reitz, my physics major advisor, kept encouraging me in spite of mostly Cs and C+s in my major,” he wrote in 2013.) He went on to earn a PhD in (mechanical) engineering at Columbia University. He moved to Minneapolis to work for Control Data. The bulk of his career, from 1975 to 2000, was spent working for the US Postal Service (USPS) in Washington, DC, including a stint as director of the Office of Advanced Technology. Among other assignments, he was responsible for research in the 1980s on the reading of handwritten ZIP codes by machines. As he told the New York Times, “Instead of hoping people will improve their penmanship, we’re trying to understand how people write their addresses.” He and his team received several patents for their work developing the zip code reader
After his retirement in 2000, he devoted time to non-career interests. One was oil painting; his grandmother Marjorie Flack (1897-1958) had been a well-known artist and writer of children’s books, and his father and mother were both artists. He sold some landscape paintings. Another interest was in building small boats. Another was in music, in which he took up the oboe and later the bassoon. He wrote in 2013, “One of my two As at Carleton was in music appreciation, where we started with Bach fugues, which was great for one such as me who loves to analyze. My engineering skills are used in making double reeds for the bassoon.”
He moved from the DC area to Stevens Point, Wisconsin in 2020 with his partner. He died in December 2021 of a heart attack while out on a walk. His family has endowed an educational fund for aspiring illustrators in the name of his grandmother at the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, Mass.
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