Jacob “Jack” Schwartz Dies at 79

I learned yesterday that Jack Schwartz had died early in the morning at the age of 79.

I learned this sad news from Peter Capek, who had been told by Fran Allen. Hank Warren, a mutual friend for almost forty years, was on the cc: list. I replied as follows:

Sad news, indeed. Though I hadn’t spoken to Jack in years I thought of him earlier today, before learning of his untimely death.

I checked out a copy of Steve Lohr’s book about programming, “GOTO,” a week or so ago, and finally got around to reading it last night. (I noted with interest that you, Fran, Dick Goldberg,Lois Haibt and Watts Humphrey were among those Steve consulted in putting the book together.)

I knew all except Watts well from my days at Research, and once met Watts when Jack and I traveled to Poughkeepsie early in the SETL days to brief Watts on the project.

Those memories got me to thinking about the best programmers I have worked with during my career.

Hank was the first fully professional programmer I met; I recall him quietly sitting at his desk at CIMS (he was on loan from IBM to CIMS for about a year) churning out flawless PL/I code hour after hour.

Robert B. K. Dewar of CIMS and Chet Murthy of IBM are the two best programmers, in the usual sense, that I have worked with. But, taken all in all, I place Jack at the top of the list.

I recall almost to the hour the moment I encountered Jack around 90th and Broadway about September 1969. He knew I was looking for a thesis topic, and said that he had been working at IBM for the summer, and had been pursuing an idea.

The idea was to base a programming language on finite sets, to make “finite set theory executable.”

I thought it the most brilliant idea about programming I had yet heard, and still do today.

He said that since he had done the work on IBM’s dime he had to offer it to them, but he expected they would decline, and if they did then he would start a project on it at CIMS.

That insight, and the first programs he wrote in SETL, as he refined the language by taking algorithm after algorithm and expressing them in SETL, make him the best programmer I ever worked with.

Please keep me informed of any memorial services.

Karin and I both mourn his lossing. Not only was he the most brilliant person I ever worked with, he was, along with Fran, the nicest.

I understand the Ed Schonberg is arranging a memorial event, to be held on or about March 27th. I expect the details of this will appear at the CIMS site,

I plan to write a memoir about my years with Jack and some of the stories thereof, but want to take my time doing so, so I can savor the memories as I write it.

Jack Schwartz — May His Memory Be a Blessing.

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  1. […] John Markoff of the New York Times, who has been asked to write the obituary for Jack Schwartz, who died yesterday at the age of 79. Peter Capek had given my name to John, and John asked me to talk of my years with […]

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