Remembering Bob Noonan

Professor Bob Noonan

Professor Bob Noonan

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our colleague Robert (Bob) Noonan (74) 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.

Bob was one of the founders of Computer Science at William and Mary, a father figure and a dedicated teacher of the Department who will be remembered for his work ethic 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 of the 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 at William & Mary 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 3-person team that put the 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” (two editions, 2001 and 2006) 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 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 has also been 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 instated 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 extra-curricular 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. Our thoughts are with his family.

Visitation will be at Nelsen Funeral Home, 3785 Strawberry Plains Rd. from 6:00 to 8:00 PM on Wednesday, November 7th.

A celebration of life will be held at Wellspring United Methodist Church, 4871 Longhill Rd, Williamsburg, VA on Thursday, November 8th at 2:00 PM.

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to either

40 thoughts on “Remembering Bob Noonan

  1. Bob was fantastic. He not only taught the material masterfully, but he and Debbie were dear friends to all of us in the class of ’84 back when the computer in the basement was hooked up in serial so you had to block people from adding jobs to the card reader to get the big IBM printer with the spinning ball to spit out results. You welcomed us into your home and your hearts (and your Sweet Adelines rehearsals, Debbie). My heart goes out to you, Debbie, and the memories of you and Bob will be with me forever.

    • Dear dear Bill,
      Thanks for your kind words. I’ve often wondered whatever happened to you. I hope you are well and doing well. I have wonderful fond memories as well of our times at the Squires Pub and Sweet Adelines. Are you still singing? I’m not. But I’m acting and have been for almost 35 years. I miss Bob terribly I’m afraid. Today I took down all the cards and re-read them all. People said the kindest things – they all brought back the tears. It will take me a long time to get over this esp. during this season. But my son who’s 30 now will keep me strong. He’s a real blessing. I wish you’d keep in touch. I don’t even know where you are.

  2. Bob was my programming language professor when I was in senior year, 2016. Despite the Parkinson’s disease, he was not only one of the most effective professors, but also one of the most passionate and warmest hearted professors. As the first recepient of Bob and Debbie Noonan Award, I can’t never be certain that his passion and warmest heart will resonate throughout my life. Thanks Bob, Rest In Peace.

  3. I hope that others will someday say of me what I can say unequivocally about Bob — that, yes, he made very important contributions as an academic leader, instructor, mentor, advisor, and researcher for which he will be remembered; but more importantly, he was likely the most friendly, encouraging, and caring person one could have the good fortune to know.

  4. I was a TA for Bob’s Intro to Compilers class my first year in grad school. I was worried about being a TA for the first time, but working for Bob was great. I enjoyed going to his lectures and working with him to help the students. I’m sad to hear about his death, the department will be poorer without him. I wish his family the best.

  5. Bob made important contributions to the Liberal Arts Computer Science Consortium (LACS). He was a great colleague. I am sorry to hear this news.

  6. Bob’s compiler construction class was a right of passage for senior CS students in the eighties, and I was privileged to have had him as a teacher. He made a lasting impact on many of us. I still have the Aho, Sethi, and Ullman “Dragon Book” on my shelf as a reminder of first steps into a much more complex technical world. Deepest sympathies to Debbie, who made also made a lasting impact on so many CS students as well, and taught the first computer science class I ever took. I still remember my first login to PRIMOS with her standing by.

  7. I feel very fortunate to have studied with Bob and known Debbie. I was the ACM local chapter president and worked with Debbie on that.

    My studies at W&M led me to an MS at Ohio State and a long career surrounding computing. These days I primarily manage projects but still code on the side personally. My regards to the family in this time of change.
    Greg Schueman – Class of 1990 (Portland, Maine)

  8. I am very sorry to hear about Bob’s untimely passing. Condolences to Debbie and family. I knew Bob and Debbie during my time on the faculty at W&M in the 1990s, and got to know them well because we were part of a regular lunch group that included the other stalwarts (Dick, Paul, Steve, Bill). I learned a lot about how to be a faculty member and how a good department is run from this outstanding group. Bob, in particular, was a delight to work with in committees – he was always fully prepared, thorough, and genial. One could close one’s eyes and let his draft become the committee’s output because you knew he’d thought of everything ahead of time, had read all the relevant policies, had the history of the issue in hand etc. Yet he was always welcoming of input from everyone, and willing to go along with changes; he just had this capacity to see things from your point of view. He took the same dedication in service to teaching – often, he would volunteer to teach courses nobody else wanted. I would add his seminal contributions to parsing to his bio. He was the author of PARGEN (his VA license plate, if I remember correctly), one of the first parser generators, and I think the first in Pascal, and later, the first in Ada.

  9. Bob Noonan was truly an influential professor for me, back in the days when the CS department was just formed. Not only did I greatly enjoy his courses, but his advice changed the course of my later professional life. He (along with Norm Gibbs) convinced me to apply for PhD programs. Even though I accepted a different offer than my offer from Purdue, I did
    become a professor, and the rest is history.

  10. The only class I had with Bob Noonan when I was at William and Mary was Programming Languages in the fall of 1990. The thing I remember most about him was a lecture he gave on Smalltalk. He had a 286 laptop with an attached LCD panel that sat on top of an overhead projector. The light from the projector shown through the LCD panel to project an image on the overhead screen. While we watched, he wrote a Smalltalk program which moved the turtle on the screen, causing it t draw a simple shape. This was all wizardry at the time. Laptops were pretty rare, and I don’t think any of us had seen an LCD/overhead projector panel in real life before. As the turtle crawled slowly across the screen, Dr. Noonan said, “Huh, this is a lot faster in my office on my 386.” Something in his voice struck me, and I looked away from the screen at his face to see a tiny smirk there which seemed to say, “That’s right, I have a 386 in my office,” and I thought to myself, “Man, this guy really loves what he does!”

  11. RIP Bob, I have known Bob professionally for many years. We worked together on several educational projects for computer science. You will be missed!!

  12. I have such great memories of Bob and Debbie Noonan! I still love telling people out here in Colorado that I was a Comp Sci major at William and Mary. After they realize that W&M is not an all-girls private school (nope, we are not that well known in the West still – maybe another 300 years?) then they question the fact that this liberal arts school has a Comp Sci program. Thank you Bob! Thank you Debbie! It’s great what both of you have done for our community! Long live WMED!! Chris Hahn – Class of 1989

  13. Dr. Noonan was my advisor and one of my CS professors. We tended to think similarly on things, including programming languages. In the Programming Languages class, he said I was the only student in the class who even came close to designing a language in the way he was expecting. I told him about a bug in Insert mode in the editor he wrote, WMED, that no one else had noticed in over a year. He was paying a small amount for bug reports and offered to pay me, but I told him no, I could not take money for that. He had a gentle spirit and gave me lots of great advice. He was everything you could hope for in an advisor and in a professor.

  14. Bob Noonan’s 8 am class was the only 8 am class that I ever had – and he made it worth it. I remember how he’d answer every question in class, and help any student who was stuck on an in-class assignment. I still use some of his teachings to this day. Rest in peace Professor Noonan.

  15. I was a member of the Clads of 1985, the first graduating class of the standalone CS department. Bob Noonan was one of the three most influential professors I ever had in my academic career in Computer Science. Many of things I learned from him still hold true today. May his memory be a blessing.

  16. CS141 in the Spring semester of my Freshman year at W&M – 1978. I took this course on a whim to see what it was all about. Forty years later, Dr. Noonan’s teaching skills are still at work as I help at team to develop software for Pediatric Practices. Pascal programming was fun! Dr. Noonan, you set me on my life’s work, and it has literally benefited the lives of millions of children. The ripples continue, and I thank you.

  17. As an assistant prof in the second half of the Eighties, Bob was my colleague and friend. He was clearly an important force in the department, and in the lives of our students.

    He will be missed.

    • Dr Noonan was a great mentor who looked at people as the whole, leading initiatives with Debbie to get us CS grad students to push ourselves both in the classroom and beyond.

      His calm demeanor in the midst of the chaos that college could be was greatly appreciated as well as his championing CS

      I’m glad to have spent time with you.

  18. I didn’t know that he was one of the founders of Computer Science Department. I regret that I never talked to him when I was in the PhD program and I should have known about him better. Wish him rest in peace in heaven.

  19. Bob made learning seem effortless, but still covered an enormous amount of material that I now use in my own classes. He loved teaching and his passion made his students love computer science as much as he did.

  20. Bob Noonan was a great professor. I remember taking his compilers class & learning so much. Teachers live on forever in their students’ achievements. Thank you, Bob. I know you’ll be up there somewhere figuring out ever more efficient code. Rest in peace.Deepest sympathies to Bob’s wife Debbie who I took CS 141 with.

  21. I was lucky enough to be able to take a class with Bob Noonan in one of his last semesters teaching at W&M. Even my short time with him showed me how passionate and devoted he was to his students and colleagues in the Computer Science Department. I am incredibly thankful to have had the privilege and pleasure of learning from Bob and I wish him and his family all of the best. He will be missed, but more importantly he will be fondly remembered as an amazing teacher and person.

  22. I met Bob in the mid 80s at the Williamsburg Community Theater. While Debbie was usually off stealing the show with even the smallest of parts, Bob was quietly behind the scenes helping to make the magic happen. As things would get contentious the closer it got to opening nights, Bob was always the calming influence in the storm. I truly admired that. God bless you Bob. Thank you for all the great memories.

  23. I was lucky enough to have Bob as a teacher in 2004. He was very kind and generous, and he was willing to take the extra time to get to know anyone on a personal level. We used his book in our class, but he donated all proceeds to a charity of our choice. He was a wonderful inspiration, and I’ll never forget the day he shook my hand as he handed me my diploma.

  24. Bob Noonan was one of my favorite professors when I was at W&M. He was always incredibly friendly, kind, and helpful. He clearly loved teaching. He’ll be greatly missed.

  25. I am very sad to hear of Bob’s passing. Bob was incredibly generous with his time and in promoting students. Back in the day, he added courses to the schedule upon request, so it doesn’t surprise me to hear that he taught courses on overload to ensure that students had enough courses to graduate. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Bob’s encouragement, his passion for students and teaching, and his nudging of students to pursue graduate studies. All he ever asked for in return is that we do the same for our students when we became instructors. He will be sorely missed. My condolences to Debbie, Paul, and the CS Department.

  26. I was lucky enough to take one of Bob Noonan’s first undergraduate courses in compiler design in 1981. He was as excited to teach it as I was to take it. That one course set the direction of my entire academic and professional life, inspiring my graduate school research and lifelong career. I’m forever indebted to Bob for his energy and enthusiasm as an instructor.
    On top of that, Bob was also just the nicest guy you could hope to meet. He was a role model for all of us as we navigated our paths as young adults.
    Bob, you will be greatly missed.
    -mark (’82)

  27. Bob was a wonderful teacher and an excellent person. He made difficult subjects clear, and tedious ones interesting. His kindness and empathy will not be forgotten. May his memory be a blessing.

  28. Professor Noonan was a great, encouraging professor that I was glad to have had the opportunity to know. He always had a very open door policy with his students that made him very approachable and encouraging. God bless, sir, and RIP.

  29. Bob Noonan was incredibly patient and kind with me during my time studying computer science. I loved hearing his experience with computers and with web design for churches in the area. He was an awesome teacher and incredibly kind man. He will be missed.

  30. Dr. Noonan had such a positive influence on me during my time at William and Mary. He always brought the best out of students. He will be missed and I am grateful to have known him.

  31. I remember taking a computer class from Dr Noonan in the early 1980s. Aside from being a good teacher, he was very nice and friendly. It was very easy to approach him to ask questions.

  32. Bob was always so supportive of me and my desire to teach. He was truly a father figure to many, many students. His legacy will live on in all of us.

  33. Graduating in 1986 from the CS Department, I remember Bob as an excellent teacher who loved to learn everything he could about his students. He made his classes interesting and fun. My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Debbie, family and the W&M Tribe Community.

  34. Bob Noonan was an eminently kind professor that made getting up for an 8am worth it. He taught me a lot of foundational concepts that I still use in my day to day career. I will always remember his earnest efforts to impart his passion for computer science to his students.

  35. Bob has been a very valuable member of Computer Science Department at William and Mary. When I was an Assistant Professor, he visited my classes several times, giving me wonderful suggestions on how to make my classes better. He was a good friend and a good colleague. I wish him peace in heaven.

  36. Bob has been a very valuable member of Computer Science Department at William and Mary. When I was an Assistant Professor, he visited my classes several times, giving me wonderful suggestions on how to make my classes better. He is a good friend and a good colleague. I wish him peace in heaven.

  37. Bob Noonan was one of my professors when I was working on my Masters degree in Computer Science in the late 1980s. He was very good teacher and a great person.

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