UW computer-science pioneer Jerre Noe dies at 82
Jerre D. Noe helped build the Computer Science and Engineering Department at the University of Washington. He was a key figure in early...
Seattle Times technology reporter
Jerre D. Noe helped build the Computer Science and Engineering Department at the University of Washington. He was a key figure in early efforts to computerize banking. His research won national attention and awards.
But career demands didn't keep Professor Noe from cultivating a rich personal life, one filled with music, sailing, skiing and travel. He did it all, friends say, and did it with passion.
Professor Noe died Saturday, six weeks after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer. He was 82.
His lasting influence on the UW's Computer Science and Engineering Department was evident this week. The department created a Web site on Sunday with facts about his life and photos of Professor Noe as a young boy shoveling snow, as a bespectacled professor and as a distinguished gentleman with a ready smile.
"He was an absolutely wonderful human being in addition to being very strong technically," said Ed Lazowska, who led the department in the 1990s. "I can't say enough about the guy."
Professor Noe was born Feb. 1, 1923, in McCloud, Calif., and received an education in the Bay Area — a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and a doctorate in the same field from Stanford University.
He went on to work at a Stanford research facility, where he led a technical team for a project that developed a computerized banking system for Bank of America in the 1950s. That team helped develop a method of printing checks with magnetic ink so they could be read by computers. Previously, bank employees had to go through each check by hand.
The UW recruited Professor Noe in 1968 to be the first chairman of what was then called the Computer Science Group. He took the helm of the group and its graduate program — a bachelor's program would not launch until 1975 — and instituted what others describe as an atmosphere of collaboration and cooperation.
"The collegiality that he started was very important, not just among the faculty but between faculty and students and staff," said Hellmut Golde, who succeeded Professor Noe as department chairman and retired in 1992. "Sometimes you hear about fighting and backbiting in departments. We never had that."
Professor Noe had three children with his wife, Mary, and encouraged them to play musical instruments. The five of them would perform together at home, an informal quintet with dad on the flute, mom on the piano and the children playing other instruments. His daughter, Sherrill Roberts, is a professional cellist with the Portland Opera.
Mary Noe died of cancer in 1982. Professor Noe later married Margarete Woehlert, a longtime family friend. He retired from the UW in 1989 but remained an influential force on the department's direction and culture.
In retirement, Professor Noe played the flute with the Ballard Breeze quintet and hiked around Spain with his wife. He and his wife sailed for six weeks every summer, and he developed deep relationships with his grandchildren.
"Dad had a passion for life and took everybody along," said his son, Russell Noe, who teaches mechanical engineering at the UW.
Professor Noe is survived by his second wife, Margarete Noe; daughter Sherrill Roberts of McMinnville, Ore.; sons Russell Noe of Seattle and Jeff Noe of Denton, Texas; and five grandchildren. Memorial services are pending.
Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360