Caxton Foster (1929–1999)

Biography

Dr. Caxton C. Foster, a founding faculty member of the Department and a highly regarded scholar of computer architecture, died on April 1, 1999 in East Orleans, Mass. He was 70.

Foster was remembered by longtime colleague, Professor Ed Riseman, as "a colorful, somewhat eccentric character with a sharp wit and fairly strong opinions" who was "well respected in his research community." He was advisor to Professor Chip Weems.

Foster's widow, Mary Lou Foster, painted a fond portrait of her husband as a man of wide-ranging intellectual interests. His activities, she said, spanned beyond computer science to astronomy, the stone circles of the British Isles, stamp collecting, and opera. "He was a happy person -- and most people aren't very happy. He loved life," Mary Lou Foster recalled. The couple had celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary only shortly before his unexpected death.

Foster was born January 21, 1929, at Fort Bragg, N.C. He received his B.S. in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1950, his M.S. in instrumentation engineering from the University of Michigan, and his Ph. D. in 1965 in electrical engineering, also from Michigan. From 1954 to 1960, he worked as chief electrical engineer developing instrumentation electronics for the Mental Health Institute at the University of Michigan. From 1964 to 1965, he worked at Goodyear Aerospace Corp., where he participated in the design of the gac-radc 2048 Word Associative Memory (an early massively parallel processor), which was the predecessor to the first commercial massively parallel processor, the Goodyear staran. In 1967, he became Computing Center director at UMass, and in 1968, he spent a year at the University of Edinburgh. He retired in 1984 from the Department, at which point he and Mrs. Foster relocated to Cape Cod.

After his retirement he founded a software company, Mount Castor Industries, which until 1992 developed and sold software for class scheduling and recordkeeping in schools. Foster was the author of Content Addressable Parallel Processors, Computer Architecture, Cryptanalysis for Microcomputers, Content Addressable Parallel Processors, Programming a Microcomputer: 6502, and Real Time Programming: Neglected Topics. His most recent book, The Orrery, a work on the subject of using computers to compute the paths of comets and asteroids, will be published by Wilmann Bell.

Foster was also a founding member and first vice-chairman of the Association for Computing Machinery's special interest group in computer architecture (sigarch), as well as the first editor of its newsletter, "Computer Architecture News." He also was a member of the Computer Society of the IEEE.

In addition to his wife, Foster leaves five children and seven grandchildren.