University And City Should Honor Computer Pioneer Wesley Graham

By Professor Mohamed Elmasry

Professor Wesley Graham, who retired in 1997 from the University of Waterloo’s Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Mathematics died on August 23.

Professor Graham, Wes to his colleagues, was one of those rare people anyone hopes to meet through life; a man who exemplifies dedication, sincerity, vision, loyalty and humanity. I had the great fortune to know Wes and had the opportunity to know a man of fine qualities and great contributions to both the University and the city.

Wes made unique and great contributions to the University of Waterloo. As a result, he helped to put Waterloo, both the University and the city, on the international map with his software that is known world-wide. He started a genuine local trend; that you do not have to be in a big city to establish a first class University.

He used the word Waterloo in naming almost all of his novel software and in naming the companies that he helped his students to spinoff. Since I joined Waterloo in 1974, in attending international gatherings, Waterloo’s name was often associated with computer technology and with Wes’s early software; WATFOR and WATFIV. When anyone mentions Waterloo today, what comes to mind instantly is IT (information technology). UW was named MIT North in Canadian R&D circles. Wes was the pioneer who had the vision and dedication to see it happened.

Wes was a role model to many of his colleagues and students. His vision to commercialize University research through new startups was behind the successful creations of dozens of high tech companies around the UW campus. As a result of Wes’s pioneering spirit, the city has gained in creating jobs and wealth.

But Wes was always a humble man. He had always praised the contributions of others; his colleagues among both faculty and staff and that of his students. Over lunch or dinner, when the topic of his first class contributions to Waterloo used to come up, he used to change the subject and instead talk about the recent research results of his colleagues.

At the University of Waterloo he built a model for a balanced and a respected relationship between the University and industry. In such relationships he advocated that the rights of faculty, staff and students must be fully protected. This model was a first in Canada. Since then it was followed by other Universities.

Wes was a man of principles and deep sense of spirituality. He was a first class communicator. With his compassion, he used to get easily the attention of his audience. It was impossible to dislike Wes.

He pioneered the effort to offer state of the art computer facilities to faculty, staff and students, not only at Waterloo but at Canadian Universities and schools. It was one of his life missions to make user friendly computers accessible to Canadians, as a means for a better life. The spread of computer usage today in Canadian Universities, schools, business, industry and government owes a great deal to Professor Graham.

Canada has honored Professor Wesley Graham by making him an officer of the Order of Canada. It is time for the University of Waterloo to honor him by naming the Math and Computer building after him. And it is time for the City of Waterloo to rename Philip Street, where Wes started his off campus pioneering work, after him.

To honor Wes, the University and the city would honor the man, his contributions, his colleagues from both faculty and staff and his students. And above all, both the University and the city would offer their gratitude to one of their own, a man who had Waterloo always in his heart.

Professor Mohamed Elmasry is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo.