Wes Graham was an influential Professor of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, with strong ties to industry. Graham was named an Officer of the Order of Canada, in July 1999, but succumbed to cancer before the formal award ceremony in September 1999.
Graham was one of the first Professors of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, joining the new institution in 1959. When Waterloo first made its Computing Centre a separate department, in 1962, he was its first director. In 1965, when James G. Mitchell, then an undergraduate student at Waterloo, wrote an academic paper on how to write a teaching compiler for Fortran, that could compile, link, and execute a typical undergraduate's program in a single pass, Graham arranged for Mitchell and a small team, under his supervision, to write that compiler. The compiler was eventually known as WATFOR, and was eventually to be used by students at 420 Colleges and Universities around the world. WATFOR was followed by similar teaching compilers, like WATBOL, for teaching COBOL, and WATIAC for teaching the principles of assembly language programming.
Graham is credited with convincing leading computer manufacturers that it was in their interests to donate equipment to the University, because Waterloo students would then write valuable software for those computers that would make the manufacturers` products more valuable. A total of $35 million CAD in donated equipment is credited to Graham.
Graham, some of his colleagues, and students and former students of theirs, formed the University spin-off software company Watcom, which was sold to Powersoft in 1994, for $100 million CAD. Powersoft was then acquired by Sybase in 1994 which was subsequently acquired by SAP SE in 2010.
The J.W. Graham Medal for excellence in Computer Science was named in his honor.