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Message on the passing of Bob Noonan

Provost Michael R. Halleran sent the following message to the campus community Nov. 6, 2018. - Ed.

Dear colleagues,

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our colleague Robert (Bob) Noonan on November 1, 2018 after a long and courageous battle with Parkinson's Disease.  Bob was an eminent researcher in the fields of Software Engineering, Programming Languages, and Computer Science Education.  He was one of the founders of Computer Science at William & Mary, a father figure and a dedicated teacher of the department who will be remembered for his work ethics and integrity, his kindness, and dignity. 

Bob obtained his Ph.D. in Computer Science in 1971 (the 22nd Ph.D. degree granted in C.S. at Purdue) and joined the faculty of the University of Maryland at College Park as an assistant professor (1971-1976).  In 1976 he joined the Mathematics Department at William & Mary. Soon after, together with two other faculty, he persuaded the Mathematics Department and the administration of the need for a stand-alone Computer Science Department.  In July 1984 the Department of Computer Science was established offering B.S. and M.S. degrees.  In 1986, Computer Science became the third department at W&M to offer a Ph.D. degree.  

With a clear vision of the place of computing in society, Bob took the lead in a variety of academic and administrative positions that had significant impact that is felt to this day.  In 1988, he was the only professor of the three-person team that put W&M on the Internet.  A few years later, as the chair of the Information Technology Advisory Committee, he convinced the administration to wire the campus for Internet access and oversaw the completion of the task by serving as Acting Associate Provost for Information Technology from 1995 to 1997.  He served twice as Acting Chair of the department and was its longest-standing undergraduate director.  In 1986 Bob joined the Liberal Arts Computer Science (LACS) Consortium representing William & Mary. The consortium was successful in creating a national curriculum to improve the teaching of undergraduate Computer Science.  Bob was a long-standing member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Special Interest Group for Computer Science Education (SIGCSE).  He is the co-author of a textbook “Programming Languages: Principles and Paradigms" that has been widely used for teaching programming languages in Computer Science curricula across the country. 

Bob will be remembered as a kind friend and a passionate teacher who always put the interest of William & Mary’s students first.  Despite his long battle with Parkinson's and lymphoma, he did not hesitate to teach in overload so that our B.S. students had enough classes to take and would be able to graduate.  His students have fond memories of his mentorship as well as the annual graduation parties at his home.  His support for his department and his colleagues was also unwavering.  He did not hesitate to sit in every single lecture of junior colleagues for an entire semester to provide constructive advice as to how to improve their teaching.  

Despite his many accomplishments, Bob was humble and dedicated to others.  He would always speak his mind but extremely thoughtfully and considerately.  As a leading figure in our Department for decades, he has nurtured an egalitarian, good stewardship climate which we identify as one of the biggest strengths in our department and try to maintain to this day. 

Upon his and his wife's retirement, the department established the "Bob and Debbie Noonan Award" that is given annually to an undergraduate student who has a high GPA and is an active participant in computer-related extracurricular activities.  This brings together the qualities that Bob stood for, scholarship and impact on the community.  He will be greatly missed by his students, friends, and colleagues.   He is survived by his loving wife of 45 years Debbie and his son Paul.

Visitation will be held on Wednesday, November 7 from 6-8pm at Nelsen Funeral Home, 3785 Strawberry Plains Road, Williamsburg.  A celebration of life will be held on Thursday, November 8 at 2pm at Wellspring United Methodist Church, 4871 Longhill Road, Williamsburg.

The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Williamsburg Players, P.O. Box 91, Williamsburg, VA 23187; or the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Grand Central Station, P.O. Box 4777, New York, NY 10163-4777.

The department has set up a blog where you can add your thoughts and remembrances: