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May 14, 2015

Obituary: Robert P. Daley

daleyDaniel Mossé recalls his first impression of Robert Daley, faculty member and former chair of the Department of Computer Science in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, when Mossé was hired 23 years ago:

“He rode a motorcycle, had a big beard and long hair and wore a bolo tie. I thought it would be cool to work for a Hell’s Angel,” jokes Mossé, who is now the chair.

But Mossé was most attracted to a certain formality he discovered in Daley: “He didn’t speak much — he was a reserved guy — but when he spoke he spoke only with knowledge.”

Daley died April 26, 2015, at age 70.

Daley earned a BS in mathematics in 1966 from what was then Carnegie Institute of Technology and his PhD in the same field from Carnegie Mellon University in 1971.

He was an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, 1971-75, then joined the Pitt faculty, where he also was a senior fellow in the Center for Philosophy of Science. He was awarded tenure in 1979 and served as department chair 1991-94.

Beginning in the early 1980s, Daley’s service to the University included membership on the Executive Committee for Academic Computing and associated ad hoc committees. He was a member of Faculty Assembly (2000-13) and of Senate Council (2001-13). He also was an elected member (2005-08) and a pro tem member (2008-15) of the Senate’s computer usage committee, as well as an elected member of the Senate’s commonwealth relations  committee (2008-15), which he co-chaired in 2013-14. In addition, he was a member of the University Review Board (2010-15).

His research focused on the theoretical foundations of computer science, computational complexity, learning algorithms and philosophical aspects of computer science. He created mathematical tools to analyze learning algorithms in artificial intelligence, was widely published in scientific journals and received a multitude of grants from the National Science Foundation.

Among his current projects was the development of the ForesBott, a robot that could be let loose among the trees to gauge forest health, detecting invasive species. Daley was using his own acreage in Washington County to test the device, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For approximately a decade he also conducted research each summer for the Naval Center for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence at the Naval Research Laboratory.

“He’s been nothing but a gentleman,” says Mossé, remembering the time Daley insisted a student take Daley’s name off his paper, telling the student he should take sole credit for all the work he had done. “He was a very principled man. Whenever as chair, as a faculty member, I needed some advice, it was good to hear a voice of wisdom.”

N. John Cooper, Bailey Dean of the Dietrich school, says: “Bob Daley made significant intellectual contributions to the Dietrich school’s community of learners. He brought great passion to many interests, from theoretical foundations of computer science to beekeeping, enlivening every discussion he entered, and enriching every life he touched.”

Fellow departmental faculty member Rami Melhem was Daley’s student before they became faculty colleagues. Melhem fondly recalls Daley inviting department faculty and staff to his house for pies made from his own trees’ cherries, and the frozen pies everyone was sent home clutching. Daley also gave jars of his homemade honey to department faculty and staff each Christmas.

Bob Hoffman, director of operations in the department, recalls his surprise when Daley, known for his overriding interest in theory, decided to buy a short-wave radio receiver. “Instead of buying a ready-made unit, [he] buys a Heathkit — one that he would have to assemble himself. It turned out that the radio he bought was not just a receiver but was also a transmitter for the amateur radio (or ham) bands. In order to use a ham radio transmitter legally, you needed to pass a test on electronic theory and FCC rules and you had to demonstrate proficiency in Morse code. So, Bob studied and passed the tests and was awarded general class ham radio license N3ENO. Obviously, my assessment of him as a theory-only type of person was seriously mistaken and that would not be the only thing that ever surprised me about Bob.”

That would include the interest Daley took in Eastern Europe in the 1980s, particularly Poland and Russia. He wore a “Solidarnosc” pin on his lapel in support of Solidarity leader Lech Walesa’s fight for workers’ rights in Poland, spoke Russian and developed software that allowed him to produce Cyrillic documents.

Hoffman adds: “I believe the biggest surprise for me was when he and Joan sold their house in Squirrel Hill, bought 55 acres on a hilltop in Washington County and moved there. That property had been a YMCA camp and much of the land had been cleared. Bob decided that the right thing to do would be to reforest that ground as it might have been if no camp had been there.”

In addition to his wife, Daley is survived by daughter Kirsten and her husband Dennis Ludwig, and grandson Alexander.

Memorial donations may be made to Donnell House, Washington Hospital Hospice Care, Washington Health System Hospital Foundation, 155 Wilson Ave., Washington, PA 15301, or Southwestern PA Woodland Owners Association, 2506 Hollywood Drive, Pittsburgh 15235.

—Marty Levine   

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