Mystery buyer using bitcoin in Sonoma County revealed

FILE - This April 3, 2013 file photo shows bitcoin tokens in Sandy, Utah. Bitcoin, a virtual currency that sometimes takes the form of tokens, has broken through in Sonoma County with a store accepting it as payment. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

My column last week about bitcoin making a rare appearance in Sonoma County left readers with a cliffhanger.

A man in June paid $1,799 in digital currency for two hearing aids for his mother at Kenwood Hearing Centers in Santa Rosa. It was the first customer payment at Kenwood using bitcoin, the most prominent form of cryptocurrency.

Who was this mystery man and his mother?

Well, the man called me and explained the fascinating back story about his mom and why he thought it was appropriate to buy her hearing aids with virtual money.

The recipient of the hearing aids was Linda Bowman, 80, a resident of Vine Ridge Senior Living in Cloverdale. Bowman, a 1963 graduate of the University of Wyoming with a mathematics degree, became a trailblazer in Salt Lake City in the early days of computer programming.

As a single mom from Wyoming raising two boys in Utah, she worked as a computer programmer for 20-plus years at Sperry Univac Computer Systems, a federal government defense contractor.

Originally with an old slide rule and punch cards and later with the first mainframe computers, Linda programmed missile launch trajectories for U.S. aerospace projects.

“As a kid all of our grocery shopping lists were on computer punch cards,” recalled her son David Bowman, a marketing executive in the wine industry who has worked for notables E. & J. Gallo and most recently Jackson Family Wines.

He said Salt Lake City was a tough place for his mom, a staunch feminist, to raise him and his older brother Matthew, now a Bowdoin College history professor. As Presbyterians, they attended the wrong church in the city where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is based.

On top of that, she was making a name for herself in a science and technology field that during her heyday was dominated by men. At the time, Utah was a hub for defense contractors.

David said he and his brother were “classic latchkey kids” at home after school until mom arrived from work. He does remember as a young boy attending preschool at the local Jewish Community Center.

He called his upbringing like “experiencing a little United Nations” there in Salt Lake City.

As he grew up, he remembers the many stories from his mom about colleagues who before talking to her would say how they couldn’t believe a man would be named Linda. This sorority sister, who was high school classmates in Casper, Wyoming, with Lynne and Dick Cheney, was undeterred and persisted in her successful career.

(Yes, that Dick Cheney became George W. Bush’s vice president from 2001 to 2009.)

After leaving Sperry, Linda went on to work until the late 1990s as a technical writer of computer software manuals for a couple of startup companies. One of them was a software enterprise in Park City, Utah, run by Randy Fields, who later with his wife, Debbi, cofounded Mrs. Fields Cookies, the global purveyor of cookies and brownies.

In 2016, David’s retired mom moved from Nevada to Sonoma County because he and his family came here to Healdsburg two years earlier. Dementia has diminished her ability to communicate, but she remains bright and fascinated by technological advances. She’s owned modern tech toys like an iPad and iPhone.

When she needed hearing aids, David found Kenwood Hearing Centers. Adam Jasa, a hearing instrument specialist, brought up bitcoin as a payment option after David told him a quick overview of his mom’s pioneering work in technology.

David told me he thought it would be a “fitting tribute” to buy his “exceptional mom” her hearing aids with bitcoin.

“The idea of using digital currency was a no-brainer,” he said. “If somebody was going to use bitcoin to buy hearing aids it should be Linda Bowman.”

By the way, his tech aficionado mom has been staying in touch with a group of 10 of her former Kappa Delta college sorority sisters via the Zoom video chat app that exploded on the scene during the pandemic. She recognizes her old friends and, although it’s difficult for her to communicate, she joins in the conversation.

“She has a mouth like a sailor and a wit to go along with it,” her son said.

Send your tips and ideas as this column chronicles the local economic post-pandemic recovery to Call or text 215-237-4448. Or you can message @BiznewsPaulB on Twitter.

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