Sunday, June 28, 2009


Professor Ralph Selfridge, 1927-2008

One of my mentors has shuffled off this mortal coil. I’ve only just learnt of it, but Ralph Selfridge (see a reference to him in these pages here, and pronounce it “rafe”, please) died about ten months ago. He was one of my computer science professors at University of Florida, and a friend at the time, but one with whom I, sadly, did not stay in touch with. I have, though, in the Internet age, periodically “googled” him, to check in. And so I knew that he’d retired from UF in 2002.

I once again searched for him on Friday, and found his obituary. With sadness, I went to the “guest book” link there, read the entries, and then added my own.

Here’s what I said:

I’ve only just found this through a Google search, casually looking for where my favourite professor is now. I’m sad, this time, to find the answer.

In 1974 thru 1977, I was finishing my mathematics degree at University of Florida, and studying computer science — I went on to a career at IBM, where the latter served me much more than the former. I met Dr Selfridge early in that time, and loved him immediately for his quirky style, his quick wit, and his easy rapport with the students who could appreciate him.

Dr Selfridge taught me the finer details of the APL programming language, as well as many aspects of being a first-class computer scientist. I’m grateful to him for his role in where my life and career went.

Some of that learning happened in class, and some of it happened at the Rathskellar or the Orange and Brew on Friday afternoons, in what he called the Alcoholic Programmers’ League. We, the students who joined him, felt rather like accolytes accompanying Plato or Socrates.

Over the years, I’ve wished I’d kept in touch with Dr S, but settled for the occasional Google search. I’ll search no more, now, but I’ll always remember Ralph Selfridge with very, very much fondness.


caellach1990 said...

Ralph was a truly special man..... I've always wondered what it must have been like to be a student in one of his classes. The closest I ever came was asking him to help me with my algebra homework at the dinner table. *smiles* Thank you for your heartfelt tribute to my grandfather.

Katherine said...

My memories of him were not only from my earliest childhood but later when he flew to Ridgecrest and took my eldest son up in his plane. He worked with my dad on the Sidewinder (google Robert GS "Bud" Sewell) but even when I was toddler, he was my special friend. He taught me to count by 3's and 7's before I learned to count by 1's. We used to hula hoop together at beer busts (fancy way of saying BBQ with keg of beer). My favorite memory is being still a preschooler and going up in his plane and him letting me take the controls in the co-pilot seat. I think, to all 3 of my sisters and I, he was just one of the best parts of the 50's in China Lake!

Ralph said...

I, too, have fond memories of Dr. S, both as his student (1980-1986) and friend. I still remember the smell of the Turkish coffee in his office.

Unknown said...

I learned so much from the wonderful name I know as grandpa Ralph. He will always be missed and never forgotten. Thank you for you love for him.

Edward A. Singer said...

My memories of Dr. Selfridge are nothing but wonderful. When he arrived at Miami University, in Ohio in 1959, I met him on his very first day of work and I was a second year student in Mathematics and Physics. He adopted me as his favorite student and mentored me. He was fantastic at bringing out the best in a student. He groomed me to be his replacement as a graduate student with a teaching fellowship when he departed to accept a position at Florida. I consider that I was his first student and he was always my favorite professor. He launched me onto an amazing career in the computer field where I was a great success and finally retired a few years ago at age 68. We stayed in contact over the years and I absolutely loved that man...He was a great teacher and person. Edward Singer of College Park, MD