Stony Brook, NY- March, 2014

In March at a memorial service in Oregon, friends and colleagues gathered to celebrate the life of Dick Kieburtz. David Smith, a former Chair of the CS department, and John Hennessy a former student and now president of Stanford, share their reflections.

Memories of Dick Kieburtz from the early years of Stony Brook University-David Smith
Dick Kieburtz (second from left) and fellow Chairs at the 35th Anniversary of the CS departmentIn the brand new Stony Brook of the 1960's, flagship departments were being started up from scratch, and a small group of us were determined that Computer Science should be one of them. But there was a small problem: the president had other priorities, as did the Dean of Engineering, - and his faculty, who voted us down not once but twice. When at the end of that decade we got an opportunity to finagle department status as part of a Division of Mathematics (which the president did want), we knew that in this situation we would need someone to lead it who had not only standing in the field, but also some amount of political smarts. That person was Dick Kieburtz, about to return after two years at Stanford. In the following decade it was Dick above all who managed to negotiate the initial rough waters and set the department on a stable path for expansion into the future.

Although the Division of Mathematics died a rapid and unnatural death, the now Department of Computer Science, whose star was born in the conflagration, went on under Dick's leadership to accrete steadily. And as we grew we needed space. But the rough waters would take a little time to subside. In particular, the level in the basement of the Physics building, at that time notorious for flooding, and which was where the administration proposed to put us. But Dick said no, he just refused. After that it took until 1981 when we were next offered significant space, in a second hand building notorious for two things (as I was subsequently to discover). First, fake electrical sockets in the walls, a gift from New York building inspectors. And second, not only skeletons in the closet, but a huge number of body parts everywhere we looked (and I do mean huge, courtesy of what must have been a very strange anatomy department).

At this prospect, Dick, who always seemed to know better than I did what was coming down the pike, - promptly resigned.

But on his way out of the door with a bang he did us a favor, - he concentrated the administration's attention. So when we next applied for a big grant to equip the department, this time they did not deny us the necessary matching funds as they had done just over a decade earlier. And we got both of those grants anyway and went on to become, from the only department on campus without any building, to, as we speak, the only department on campus with three buildings. Moreover, with close to 500 graduate students, it is just about the largest department on campus - and rated in the top 20 nationally not only in research but also in undergraduate education. So now nobody can be found at Stony Brook who will admit to ever even thinking that this was not a perfectly peachy idea.

For Dick was, above all, a person with an open mind, able to adapt to changing times, to the benefit of the general welfare (a species which seems to becoming more rare, especially in the political realm!). Accordingly, when he foresaw at an early point how computers would come to play such a dominating role in all our lives, he changed his field from antennae design. So also in that political realm, coming from a place as a more or less moderate Republican (a species now even rarer), he came to a place with us on the streets on DC in a protest march. And so also in his sporting diversions, he put aside (for that period anyway) his passion for golf, to follow Stuart Harris and myself into distance running. Accordingly the three of us ran the cross-island marathon together. And in our training we would occasionally find ourselves out running with a sprinkling of colleagues, some young, and some like us, not so young any more even then. And after a few warm-up laps, Stu would some of those times make a general announcement in the stern tone he sometimes adopted: "Now, at this point you have to make a decision: Are you going to go with the young guys, or, - are you going to stay with the old guys?"

Then as Dick broke away from the front of the pack (followed by me) he would add, "There, see? There go the old guys now".

Mentor, Teacher, and Friend: Memories of Dick Kieburtz - John Hennessy
I was a student and admirer of Dick Kieburtz almost from the first day I set foot on the Stony Brook campus in January 1974. Over the next three and one-half years, he was my teacher, my advisor, and my mentor. During that time working with him, I learned lessons that have served me for forty years in academia. These insights vary from our joint love of Computer Science as a discipline, to devotion to students, to writing and communicating well, to being an avowed bicyclist!

When I arrived at Stony Brook, I was assigned as a teaching assistant for Dick Kieburtz’s programming class. It was there I witnessed his skills as a teacher. For me, it was a great opportunity to learn from a master teacher whose lectures were always a model of clarity and inspiration, and who knew how to make material seem intuitive to students. I never forgot that lesson, even as I teach a freshman seminar this very quarter.

Dick and I both began life as Electrical Engineers, but like many of the faculty and graduate students at Stony Brook (who had come from primarily engineering and mathematics disciplines), we found our intellectual passion in Computer Science. Whether it was heated debate in an advanced course or an exciting weekly seminar, the novelty of the field and the many open questions made for a heady atmosphere. It was during that time that Dick also served as department chair, and the Computer Science Department at Stony Brook reached an apex it would not see again for decades.

I have recounted many times the great good fortune I had in having Dick Kieburtz as an advisor. When the topic that became my thesis was first mentioned, I could tell that Dick thought it had real potential. Microprocessors were in their infancy but were being deployed in important applications where software reliability was critical. The existing software systems were terrible, however, and trying to improve that situation became my thesis topic. It was perfect topic for Dick to act as advisor: it combined his interests in language design, correctness, semantics, compiler design, and new technology. When the topic became red-hot just as I was graduating, some folks thought I was prescient having chosen it. If anyone was prescient, it was Dick, and I was lucky to have chosen him as my advisor.

I wrote my first research paper with Dick on the language we called TOMAL, which was designed to implement real-time applications running on microprocessors. Dick took me to New Orleans to present the paper. Dick’s guidance on the paper and the presentation were critical: he helped hone both my writing and speaking skills, which, when I arrived at Stony Brook, both needed serious attention!

My wife, Andrea, came with us to New Orleans. I remember we headed down to the French Quarter, and tried to get into a famous restaurant, which I think was Antoine’s. They weren’t taking any more reservations, but suggested we stand in line. After about an hour, we noticed people going into the restaurant, but none of them were from the line! We gave up, went to a rustic bar/café down the street, and had the best crayfish boil I have ever had. Probably a smart move.

On the way back to the hotel, we were walking up Canal Street and Andrea was between Dick and me, when someone behind us grabbed her purse and ran. I chased after him. As I was gaining on the youngster, I heard steps behind me. I turned to look back and tell Dick I almost had the culprit, but I saw that it was not Dick right behind me but the thief’s accomplice. I made a big U-turn and joined Dick who was chasing after the three of us. No great harm done, but as a story we could share over the years!

After 17 years as an administrator, I am often asked whether university administration was always my goal. I insist that I came to Stanford to be a teacher and a researcher and that those pursuits were my first love and still are. The lessons I learned from watching Dick in his research and his teaching, or from his mentorship, are insights I have tried to pass on to the students who I have worked with over the years. I have always believed that was the best way to give back and acknowledge the gift that Dick Kieburtz gave to a young graduate student just beginning his career.

About Computer Science Department at Stony Brook University 
Decades before the internet, when the big news on campus was that one of the first DEC PDP15 computers was acquired, Dick Kieburtz had the foresight to recognize the potential of the field of computer science. Following a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Fellowship at Stanford University, and after changing his focus from Antenna Design to Computer Science, Dick Kieburtz was formally appointed the first Chair of the Department of Computer Science at SBU in 1970. Sadly, Dick Kieburtz passed away on Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at his home in Portland, Oregon.

Because of Kieburtz, the Department of Computer Science at SBU successfully navigated initial rough waters and a stable foundation was built for the current department that has 1,000+ students, 50+ faculty, and is preparing to occupy a new 70,000 sq ft building. After serving as Acting Dean of Engineering, Kieburtz left SBU in 1981 and established the Computer Science and Engineering Department at the Oregon Graduate Center. He was a founding member of IEEE IFIP Working Group 2.8 (functional programming languages), and Division Director for Computer and Computation Research at NSF. Kieburtz was recognized for his accomplishments and named an ACM Fellow. Dr. Kieburtz received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from University of Washington in 1961.

“Long after his retirement from Stony Brook University, Dick was a supporter of the Department of Computer Science. When he attended our 35th Anniversary, we reflected on the progress that the department has made, which started with him. He will be greatly missed,” Arie E. Kaufman, Distinguished Professor and Chairman of Computer Science.

The Department of Computer Science at SBU, the flagship institution in the State University of New York system, is ranked among the top 20 computer science departments in the nation by the National Research Council. Interdisciplinary collaboration and research recognition elevated the Department to be the largest and strongest unit on campus. The Department boasts internationally renowned faculty who have made significant contributions in visual computing, networking, computer systems, cybersecurity, algorithms, verification, and intelligent computing.