By Frederic Friedel
In 1996 World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov was invited to play a match against Deep Blue, a million-dollar chess playing machine that had been built by IBM. The event took place in Philidelphia and was staged by the Association for Computing Machinery (the ACM), the world’s largest scientific and educational computing society. In charge of PR was Terrie, a beautiful blond lady in her late twenties. When I arrived in Philidelphia (to assist Kasparov), Terrie was eagerly waiting for me. I was the person whom she was relying on to brief her on Kasparov, chess, chess computers and artificial intelligence. We got off to a slightly rough start.
“If anyone from the media calls,” Terrie told me, “give them this number and tell them to talk to me.” — “Okay,” I said, “good to know. Someone called Letterstein called and I told him we didn’t have time for that kind of thing.” After we had revived Terrie my friend Ken explained: “Fred’s a prankster, he is putting you on.” Of course Dave Letterman had not in fact contacted us.
From a PR point of view the event was a great success — much to the surprise of IBM and the ACM, who had billed it as a scientific experiment, not a media mega-show. The picture above, from an earlier encounter between Kasparov and the computer, gives you an impression of what things were like in this formal six-game match, which Kasparov won by 4:2 points.
Terrie and I got on fabulously. I briefed her on the technicalities of the event, she taught me much of what I know about dealing with the media. One example: since Kasparov was working hard on his chess preparation for each game, I became the prime choice of the TV programs that were covering the event. After all I had taken breakfast with The Champion — and I was fairly knowledgeable about computer chess and artificial intelligence. So I was giving interviews all the time and was well on my way to becoming a media star. One thing that baffled me, though, was that just when I was getting into the most important part of an interview, when I was explaining an important, salient point, they would say “Well, thank you, Mr Friedel, that was really great.” Almost in mid sentence. But Terrie explained it to me: “They are not trying to find out exactly what is going on, they are not really interested in the subject. They are waiting for a ten-second sound bite.” As soon as I had uttered a lucid general line—like “If he wins it will be a triumph for humanity, if he loses it will be deeply traumatic” — they had what they needed. No further details required.
One incident I want to narrate is relevant for the rest of the story. The hotel we were staying in had a very long swimming pool, and Kasparov would often do dozens of laps in it, to keep fit for the next game. One evening I said to him: “Garry, I’d like to challenge you to a race. Four laps?” He stared at me in disbelief: “You have seen me swimming, Fred. I am very good at it. What makes you think you can beat me?” — “I didn’t say I would be swimming against you, Garry. I’ll ask Terrie to do it.” — “The PR lady? The beautiful blond?” He was in disbelief, like I had challenged him to a game of chess against Julia Roberts.
However, Garry is no sucker, and over the years he has learned to be additionally cautious when dealing with me. So before he got into the water he went over and asked Terrie: “Are you a good swimmer?” — “Yeah, pretty good. I was on the backup US Olympic team.” I got a vicious punch from Garry, who of course did not try to compete with this lady. He knew exactly how good girls had become when moving through the water.
Well, in the two weeks in Philidelphia Terrie and I became firm friends, and we stayed in regular email contact after that. Our exchanges were full of humour and good feelings. And then she suddenly stopped writing. I did not understand what had gone wrong, why she did not reply to my repeated messages. Well, these things happen, people lose interest and turn to other things.
For over a year there was complete silence, and then one day I received an email: “Dearest Fred, you were probably quite worried. I disappeared because I had a stroke.” Yes, the healthiest person I have known, an Olympic level swimmer, age 33, had suffered a debilitating affliction normally reserved for ageing, high blood pressure individuals. Her clot, incidentally, had come from a damaged carotid artery and had, thankfully, not affected the language centres of her brain. But it had left her partially paralysed and with absolutely no feeling in her left arm. In fact she told me she had once smelled burning in the kitchen and discovered it was her hand which she had inadvertently placed on a hot plate of the stove. Terrie actually asked her husband for a separation and divorce — she didn’t want him to have to live with a cripple for the rest of his life. He refused and they are together to this day.
I needed to see Terrie again, and a year or two later, when I was in the US, I called her to make plans. I was staying with our common friend Ken, and Terrie said: “Okay, listen, I’ll come down.” — “With whom?” Nobody, she said, she’d drive down herself. And soon she arrived, in a VW new generation Beetle, with which she spoke. She was constantly issuing commands, and the car would obey. If, she told me, she let go of the wheel and stop operating the pedals, the VW would slow down, park, and call emergency services, giving them the exact geo-coordinates of her current location. Remember we are talking about the very early 2000s, well over a decade before Google and Tesla had brought intelligence into motor vehicles.
Terrie was in fairly good shape, with partial use of her left side. Standing in Ken’s living room she would hold my hand, not out of pure affection, which she undoubtedly still had, but in order to keep her balance. “I tend to fall over if I am not hanging on to something or someone,” she explained. She was also sucking on a lolly-pop, and when I asked about it she told me that it was morphine-laced. “Try it,” she offered, and I duly did, getting a minor high for the only time in my life from an opiate. It’s nice, so I must avoid Vicodin addition if ever I am suffering from chronic pain.
Terrie continued to improve, and her prospects for having a child slowly moved from I’m afraid that is completely out of the question to Maybe with very careful monitoring. And indeed, a few years later she became the mother of a lovely baby girl. On my last visit to her home she drove me around, behaving like a perfectly normal person. Nobody in the mall or the restaurant noticed a thing, apart from maybe a slight limp.
The reason I have written about Terrie is that the way adversity struck her was so unexpected and scary— things like this apparently happen to the best of people — and the way she has pulled back from it is so inspiring. You are my hero, Terrie, and I will never forget what you have gone through.