In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus David W. Stemple (1937 - 2006)

In Memoriam

Professor Emeritus David W. Stemple (1937 - 2006)

 David W. Stemple

Professor Emeritus David W. Stemple passed away at the age of 68 on March 22, 2006 after a long battle with cancer.

"David was a great colleague and good friend, and we will miss him enormously," says Department Chair Bruce Croft.

Professor Stemple served as Chair of the Department from 1994 through 1998. He was also an Honorary Professor of Computational Science at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and known (though anonymously) to children around the world as Pa in his wife's book, Owl Moon.

A native West Virginian, Stemple was born in the small town of Webster Springs on July 31, 1937. He graduated with a B.S. in three years at West Virginia University in Morgantown, and got a Master's degree in Mathematics the following year. He taught at Wheeling College in Wheeling, West Virginia for a year, and then moved to New York City in 1960.

Starting in 1960, Stemple was involved in the development of compilers, operating systems, and database management systems in industry, first with IBM where he worked on the original Fortran compiler, and then with Computer Usage Company, a computer software consulting firm. He later moved to the Pioneer Valley and worked at UMass Amherst's Academic Computing Center.

Over the next fifteen years, he developed software and helped found a time-sharing computer company, Multicomp, based on an operating system he and others at the Computer Center developed.  In 1977, Stemple earned his Ph.D. in Computer and Information Science from this department, which he joined as an Associate Professor in 1981.  He continued his research in operating systems and database systems, eventually becoming a full professor and then Chair. He was particularly noted for his work with his Ph.D. student Tim Sheard (Ph.D. '85) on using formal specification and automated proof technology for verifying properties of database systems.

Stemple also worked closely with Adjunct Professor Krithi Ramamritham, Dean of Research and Development at IIT Bombay, on the UMass Amherst-developed Gutenberg system, a port-based, object-oriented operating system kernel designed to facilitate the design and structuring of distributed systems.  The Gutenberg Operating System Kernel takes a unique approach to interprocess communication, provides multiple programming language support, and attempts to minimize overheads. "We had a very productive research relationship and wrote many conference and journal articles together on our work on the Gutenberg project," says Ramamritham. "I will cherish those years for a long time to come."

One of Stemple's former students, Wei Zhao (Ph.D. '86), came to UMass Amherst 24 years ago as a new student; Zhao was also the first computer science (formerly COINS) graduate student from China. "Professor Stemple accepted me as his Master's student. He was more than an advisor; he was a mentor and a friend," says Zhao, currently Director of the National Science Foundation's Computer and Network Systems Division and Senior Associate Vice President for Research at Texas A&M University, will become Dean of RPI's School of Science in January. "David helped me to improve my English speaking ability, taught me to be a better technical writer, and challenged me to further develop my critical thinking skills. I would not have been able to grow my career without his tremendous help.  I, and others whose lives he has touched, will always remember David as a great teacher and a great person."

 David W. Stemple

In addition to his computer science career, Stemple was an ardent birder and became a bird song recordist, learning much from UMass Amherst Biology Professor Don Kroodsma. Stemple developed and donated a database system for field recordists to the Macaulay Museum Library of Natural Sounds at Cornell University. Since retiring in 1998, he worked recording bird songs and he did research on song repertoires and geographic variation in a number of montane thrushes from the Andes to the Alps. His recordings are in the collections of Cornell University and the British Museum.

Stemple is survived by his wife Jane Yolen, daughter Heidi E. Y. Stemple, sons Adam D. Stemple and Jason F. Stemple, six grandchildren, and three brothers.

The Stemple family and the School of Computer Science have es­tablished the David W. Stemple Scholarship in Computing in honor of Dave's work and life.  This schol­arship will be awarded to a first-year graduate student pursuing a PhD in systems research in the Department of Computer Science, with a special consideration given to female candidates. To contribute to the fund for the David W. Stemple Scholarship in Computing at UMass Amherst, gifts may be made online or by check made out to UMass Amherst with designation to the David W. Stemple Scholarship in Computing and mailed to the College of Natural Sciences, 715 Lederle Graduate Tower, UMass Amherst, 710 North Pleaseant Street, Amherst, MA 01003.