Charles Gear

Obituary of Charles William Gear

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Charles William Gear, widely known as Bill, a prominent computer scientist particularly known for his work in numerical analysis, died in Princeton, New Jersey on 15 March at the age of 87.

Born 1 February 1935 to working-class parents in London, he studied at Cambridge University on a full scholarship. There, he “read” mathematics, but if you believe his own stories, he apparently spent most of his time in a scull, rowing on the Cam. Upon graduation in 1956, with Fulbright and Johnson Foundation support, he headed to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to learn about computers, still in the early stages of development. Initially intending to stay only for a year, he remained to earn a mathematics Ph.D. in 1960. Upon completing his degree, he went to work at IBM British Laboratories in Hursley.  

Two years later, he returned to the University of Illinois, where he rose through the faculty ranks from assistant professor of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics to full professor in 1969 and, in 1985, head of the computer science department, as well as professor of Computer Science, Applied Mathematics, and Electrical and Computer Engineering.

In 1990 he was named vice president of the computer science research division at the nascent NEC Research Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.  There, he established its computer division, and two years later became president of the Institute, which also supported physics research.

After retiring in 2000, he soon became a part-time senior scientist at Princeton University, where he continued research work, primarily with associates in the Chemical and Biological Engineering department.

A fellow of the National Academy of Engineering from 1991, he was elected five years later a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  In 1987 he received an honorary doctorate from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.  Also a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, in 1987-88 he had served as president of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

In his free time, he regularly attended concerts, operas, and plays. He also enjoyed sailing, tennis, New York Times crossword puzzles, parties, and, above all, travel to destinations around the world.

He leaves his partner of fifty years, wife Ann Lee Morgan, an art historian; a daughter, K. Jodi Gear of Butte, Montana, and son, Christopher, of Reno, Nevada, both from an earlier marriage to Sharon Smith; four grandchildren; and a sister, Kate Redding, in England.

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