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Patrick Fischer, Former Professor and Department Head of Computer Science at Penn State, Dies

Patrick Fischer, Former Professor and Department Head of Computer Science at Penn State, Dies

Patrick Fischer (photo courtesy of Vanderbilt University)

Patrick Fischer, emeritus professor of Vanderbilt University and former professor and department head of computer science in the College of Science at Penn State in the 1970s, died on Aug. 26, 2011, in Rockville, MD.  He was 75.  Fischer was known for his work in establishing theoretical computer science as an independent field of study distinct from both mathematics and electrical engineering.

Fischer earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1962.  After graduation, he held faculty positions at Harvard, Cornell, Waterloo, and Penn State before his taking the position of department chair of computer science at Vanderbilt in 1980. He was named professor of computer science, emeritus, effective December 1997.  He retired in 1998.

"Pat was Department Head of Computer Science when I was recruited as an Assistant Professor to Penn State" said Dr. Mary Jane Irwin.  "I remember him fondly as a good mentor for junior faculty."

In 1968, he founded ACM SIGACT (Special Interest Group on Automata and Computation Theory) and served for five years as its first chair.  In that capacity, he started the Annual ACM Symposium series on Theory of Computing (STOC) and served as Conference Chair for the first five meetings.

Fischer was in the news as a target of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.  A package was mailed early in May 1982 addressed to him at Penn State.  At that time, he had left Penn State two years prior.  Obviously, the Unabomber was working from old data, as he often did.  The package was forward to Fischer at Vanderbilt.  When the package arrived on May 5, 1982, Fischer was teaching in Puerto Rico, so his secretary, Janet Smith, opened it.  She had serious injuries to her face and arms.  Pat was interviewed by many news outlets over the years about the Unabomber, including The New York Times and CBS News.

Fisher is survived by his wife, Charlotte Froese Fischer, Professor of Computer Science, Emerita, at Vanderbilt, who was also professor in the Computer Science Department at Penn State, their daughter, Carolyn Fischer, and a son by a previous marriage, Carl Perry Fischer.  For more information on Patrick Fischer’s life and accomplishments, visit:  http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2011/08/patrick-fischer-former-engineering-chair-dies/.

Arrangements are being made for a memorial service in Gaithersburg, MD, and then an inurnment in Ann Arbor, MI.  Memorial contributions can be made to the Montgomery Hospice Casey House or to The Nature Conservancy.

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