Dr. W. Morven Gentleman (1942 – 2018) made many outstanding and sustained contributions to the field of computing over his long career as a Canadian computer science faculty member and government and industrial researcher, including fundamental contributions to the fields of numerical and statistical computation and to the field of software engineering. All of his work was characteristically tempered with careful consideration for the practical as well as for the theoretical details necessary to put new ideas into use.
His early vision establishing the Math Faculty Computing Facility (MFCF) as a state-of-the-art facility to support teaching, research, and industry-relevant software development activities at the University of Waterloo was unique for its time. MFCF helped make Waterloo the top undergraduate program in Canada throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, setting the bar for other departments.
Dr. Gentleman’s subsequent work directing the Software Engineering Laboratory (SEL) at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), co-founding the Consortium for Software Engineering Research (CSER), and directing the Global Information Networking Institute (GINI) at Dalhousie University continued his dedication to bridging the gap between theory and practice.
Dr. Gentleman held full-time faculty positions at the University of Waterloo (1969-1983) and at Dalhousie University (2000-2008). He also held research positions in industry and government at Bell Telephone Laboratories (1965-1970) and the National Research Council of Canada (1983-2000). During this time he served on numerous boards and committees that oversaw or reviewed Canadian research programs and proposals, especially university-industry projects.
The sometimes subtle interplay between theory and practice was a recurrent theme in Dr. Gentleman’s work that intertwined strong, theory-based discovery of new techniques coupled with careful and meticulous attention to the small details that all too often determine whether new-found knowledge can be put to practical usage. His interest in techniques for developing portable software that could be easily moved across platforms led to insights on the semantics of send-reply message-passing techniques and other abstractions that simplify human understanding of complex software systems.
Much of Dr. Gentleman’s research looked across boundaries, such as hardware vs. software, different machine architectures, and different programming languages. His deep contributions to mathematical and statistical computation and real-time systems have consistently been recognized as significant contributions to the field. His mentoring and intellectual leadership at the University of Waterloo through the Math Faculty Computing Facility and his subsequent role at the NRC Software Engineering Laboratory and then in GINI at Dalhousie have helped improve the Canadian software industry and sustain productive collaborations between university and industry researchers. Dr. Gentleman is well deserving of a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award.