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Raymond Edward Miller Just Passed Away

June 8, 2019

Miller just passed away at 90

[ GIT ]

Ray Miller just passed away. He had been a researcher and leader at IBM Research, Georgia Tech, and University of Maryland. At all he did important research and also was a leader: a group head, a director, and a chair.

Today we remember Ray.

For starters you can read this or his memoir here. Ray started in the field with an electrical engineering PhD thesis tilted Formal Analysis and Synthesis of Bilateral Switching Networks. See this for his paper.

Ray’s memoir does not mention tennis. But we played tennis when I visited IBM, and also when we could while at a conference. Ray was not slim, not fast, not obviously athletic. But he was the best tennis player in our group. He was miles above me. His trick was he could control the ball, especially on his serve so it was untouchable. He could spin it so that it landed and bounced at right angles. He was so good that he hardly ever had to move. When I played him in singles, we had to agree “no spinning serves”. When we played doubles there was a small chance that someone could return his ball, but not much.

I think this is a fair way to summarize Ray: It was easy to underestimate him. Ray always had a smile on his face. I cannot remember him being anything but happy. This may led some to think he was not serious. But Ray was. He did wonderful research and was a leader in our field. He changed, for the better, all the places he called “home”. I can directly attest to his impact at Tech; others I believe can attest to IBM and Maryland. He was a great editor for Journal of the ACM, and did much more for our field. Thanks Ray.

Some Thoughts

Here are just a few comments from friends of Ray.

Rich DeMillo:

Ray was a quiet but strong and effective leader and a good friend to many of us. Nancy Lynch and I recruited him to be School of ICS Director, bringing immediate stature—both internal and external—to computer science at Georgia Tech. Up until that time Information and Computer Science was an odd duck interdisciplinary graduate program in a very traditional engineering school that had not invested in the field despite the early success of the School of Information and Computer Science and a world-class Burroughs installation (Georgia Tech had played a key role in Algol development in the ’60s). Ray was an engineer with impeccable credentials and was taken seriously by the administration in ways that the library scientists, linguists, philosophers, psychologists, cyberneticists, and mathematicians who founded the School never managed to achieve.

Dick Lipton and I were long term collaborators on theory research with Ray, and Rays’ presence helped shine a national spotlight on the School. He was the editor-in-chief of the Journal of the ACM and palled around with luminaries like Sam Winograd and Dick Karp.

In addition to his own work in switching theory and automata, Ray had co-edited the volume in which Karp’s NP-completeness paper appeared, and so his name was forever associated with that ground-breaking paper. From that point on, Atlanta became a mandatory stop on the national research circuit that was the hallmark of theory research in those days.

One of his first accomplishments was snagging the Computer Science Conference, the large, research-oriented conference for the field. It gave Georgia Tech a chance to showcase its work for the rest of the world. There was a steady rise in rankings and a steady flow of visitors like Michael Rabin, Leslie Lamport, Mike Fisher, Andy Yao, Ravi Kannan, in addition to Karp, Winograd, and Lipton. Ray tried to entice Lipton to Georgia Tech with what was at the time the university’s juiciest startup package. He was ultimately successful, but it took nearly twenty years, and by that time, Tech had replaced the School of ICS with the College of Computing, and Ray was in semi-retirement in Maryland.

Umakishore Ramachandran:

I have fond memories of my early years at Tech after being recruited by Ray to join the small but vibrant group of faculty in ICS specializing in theory, systems, and AI. Ray was extremely caring and supportive in nurturing junior faculty. One could say that Ray’s leadership was instrumental in the transformation of CS at Georgia Tech and putting GT on the map to compete with other more established CS departments around the nation.

Ray helped create a sense of family in the department. I recall every day he would be at lunch in the faculty club which in those days served coffee at $0.10. He would be there eating a healthy meal featuring a giant sausage and reserving an entire table for the ICS faculty to join him for lunch. It created such a friendly and amicable environment for discussing any issue.

I feel compelled to share a lighter anecdote when I got hired by Ray. Those were the days of terminals connected to mini computers, DEC VAX 750 and 780, and I wanted Ray to promise me that he will give me a terminal and modem for connecting to the campus computers from home. Even as a grad student at UW-Madison I had a 2400 baud modem at home. When I arrived at Tech, Ray gave me a 300-baud acoustic coupler since I had not specified what speed modem I wanted in my startup package. Ray had a giant infectious smile all the time that made it difficult to get mad at him for anything. Note: {300 \ll 2400}.

He will be missed by anyone and everyone whose lives he touched.

Bill Gasarch

Here is a short quote from Bill and see his post for more details.

I was saddened to hear of Ray Miller’s death. He was at University of Maryland for many years. Since he got his PhD in 1957 and was still active into the 2000’s he had a broad view of computer science. He did theory AND systems AND other things. It was great to talk to him about the early days of computer science before we had these labels.

Open Problems

Ray is missed. Our condolences to his family and his many friends for their loss.

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