Roy Clay, Sr., lead developer of the first HP minicomputer, first African-American executive at HP, and longtime tech investor and champion, got his first job at age 15 at the local pool hall in his Missouri hometown.
“They hired me because I could count fast, and I was honest,” says Clay, now 91 years old. “I was also very accurate. There I had to be, because making a mistake meant my life was in danger.”
One of nine children, Clay grew up outside of St. Louis in Kinloch, the oldest African-American community incorporated in Missouri, a state where schools were legally segregated until the 1950s and functionally segregated well into the 1970s. One of Clay’s most vivid memories is from when he was nine years old and he cut across his white neighbor’s lawn to get to church faster. The neighbor came out of the house, pointed a gun at him and told young Clay that if he ever stepped foot on his property again, he would be killed.