James Nairn Patterson (Pat) Hume was a true pioneer of Canadian computing and a lifelong science educator. He developed software for Canada’s first electronic computer, was a founding member of the University of Toronto’s Computer Science department, co-created the still popular CBC TV series The Nature of Things (with his colleague Donald Ivey), and was author or co-author of more than 20 books in both computer science and physics.
Pat was an accidental computer scientist. He was a young physics professor in 1952 when Toronto acquired Canada’s first electronic computer, called FERUT (a FERranti Mark I computer at the U of T), and installed it across the hall from his office. The Ferranti Mark I was the commercial offspring of the Manchester University stored-program computer project in which Alan Turing was a key participant, and it was appallingly difficult to program. Seeing this as a problem Pat and his colleague Trixie Worsley developed a system they named Transcode to make it easier for scientists to write programs for the new machine. Transcode was an immediate success and it and FERUT played a significant role in a number of important national projects, among them the development of the St. Lawrence Seaway. In December of 1955 Pat was part of a landmark experiment (along with Kelly Gotlieb) in using teletype machines to transmit research data to FERUT from the University of Saskatchewan and return results of the calculations back to Saskatoon. This has been recognized as the world’s first long-distance use of a computer and was a momentous step forward toward the Internet age.
In 1964 Pat was one of the founding members of Toronto’s Computer Science Department whose PhD grads have had a major impact on the development of computer science across the country. Pat served as Chair of the department from 1975 to 1980, as Associate Dean of Physical Sciences in the School of Graduate Studies from 1968 to 1972 and as Master of Massey College (succeeding Robertson Davies) from 1981 to 1988. He brought his sense of fun to everything he took on, from household chores, to his academic pursuits, to the yearly musical shows he’d write, produce and perform in for the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto, where he served as president from 1976 to 1978. Throughout his career, and in many diverse forums, Pat was driven by a passion to make science more accessible to young Canadians.
In recognition of his many contributions Pat was made a member of the Order of Canada, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and a Fellow of the ACM. He also received the Silver Core Award from IFIP, a Distinguished Service Citation from the American Association of Physics Teachers, the Sandford Fleming Award from the Royal Canadian Institute and the Diamond Jubilee Medal. He and Donald Ivey received international recognition for programs they developed between 1958 and 1966 for The Nature of Things, including a medal from the Scientific Institute in Rome and the prestigious Edison Award for the best science education film of 1962. He was inducted into the Canadian Information Productivity Awards Hall of Fame in 2002.
Pat passed away in 2013 at the age of 90.