Gary Baldwin  just told me the devastating news that
Richard Newton, Dean of Engineering at UC Berkeley, succumbed this morning
after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.  He was 55.

Richard was an inspiration, mentor, and close friend to a
great many of us at HP and elsewhere in the Valley.  He was a large man
with a larger smile, looking every bit the former Australian Rules footballer
that he was.  Nonetheless, his personality was always bigger. 
Richard filled a room just by entering it, and was so comfortable and at ease
with himself and the world that he made everyone, from an undergraduate intern
to the great and powerful, at ease within minutes.  It was this persona as
much as his considerable technical brilliance that let him succeed, seemingly
effortlessly, in so many positions over the course of his 30-year career: as a
professor of electrical engineering, who was a constant winner of awards for
his charismatic classroom style; as one of the
pre-eminent researchers in the field of computer-aided design of integrated
circuits (Kaufman award winner); as a founder of at least two billion-dollar
companies (Cadence and Synopsys) — I’m sure there were others; as a venture
capitalist with Mayfield; as chair of the EECS Department; as the inspiration
behind the Center for Information Technology Research in Society (CITRIS); and,
finally, as perhaps the greatest engineering dean in UC Berkeley’s storied

I’m sure that Richard considered CITRIS his greatest
accomplishment.  From the time I first met him, when I was a lowly
graduate student 22 years ago (and made comfortable within a minute of meeting
him — see above), it was clear that Richard’s passion about engineering was
not the technology for its own sake, but technology as a tool of positive,
progressive social change.  Since the time of the Sumerians mankind has
invented ways to shape nature to our beneift, and we have used those inventions
to cure disease, largely free ourselves from the need to earn our daily bread
by the sweat of our brows (or, far worse, by the sweat of others’ brows), and
explore our Universe from the Planck length to the Hubble Radius and, now,
beyond.  Richard knew that, and knew that we far from
done.   Almost twenty years ago, in the acknowledgments section of my
thesis, I wrote:

 …it seems to me that some of the most illuminating
conversations I’ve had in graduate school have come at midnight in the lab
with Richard.  On those too-rare occasions when he’d pop by to talk
about intelligent televisions, or the world as a global network…I’d remember
that engineering is not fundamentally about mathematics or electronics, but
rather about creating miracles so that we may all live longer, healther, more
fulfilling lives.

I’d write the same today, though the future has caught up to
Richard — the examples now would be different.  Towards the end of his
life, he was fulfilling the same quest.  Over the last few years his
passions were intelligent infrastructure, to make safer, greener, and more
livable cities for the first world, and, far greater, building information
technology infrastructure and bringing its manifold benefits to the developing
world.  He and his graduate students were running projects in rural India
and Africa, sometimes stringing WiFi and cellular antennas from balloons (cheap
and easy to maintain).   We talked of these projects a great deal —
what the benefits were, where the value was to the people, how some nations
could skip three generations of technology.  Eric Brewer, his colleague in
computer science at UC Berkeley and a close collaborator of Richard’s, set up a
remote, tele-operated optometric practice in southern India using
long-range WiFi technology.  Rural villagers who had never had eye care
now had it, using the technologies developed at UC Berkeley — Eric literally
made the blind see.  The project was Eric’s, but he would be the first to
say that much of the inspiration was Richard’s.

My son and Richard’s daughters went to the same middle
school.  The middle school featured occasional evening lectures by
prominent friends of the school, and one night Richard agreed to come and talk
about CITRIS.  I rushed home from Palo
Alto early that evening — it was always a great treat
to hear Richard speak, no matter how often one had heard him.  Over the
course of an hour he gave a whirlwind tour of intelligent buildings that would
direct evacuees away from a fire; protecting ancient cultural monuments using
smart dust technology; using IT to cut energy usage dramatically; smart drug
delivery systems; and, most of all, about IT in the developing world.  The
audience of middle-schoolers and their parents were entranced and
inspired.  At one point, an eighth-grade girl suggested an improvement to
one of the developing-world projects he was discussing.  Spotting me in
the back of the room, he said, "Great idea — let me take that up with our
HP representative — Rick, what do you think of that?".  I said the
only thing I could — "Looks like we have a new project" — and the
kid glowed with pleasure.  At the end, he got as five-minute standing
ovation and half the town crowding up to Richard to talk about Berkeley,
CITRIS, and what they could do to help change the world.

Richard could also put his mathematical skills to practical
use.  He liked to tell the story of arriving from Australia to go
to graduate school at UC Berkeley.  He visited Disneyland first — had to,
he explained, on arriving from Australia
— and on his first day went to a diner in Anaheim for breakfast, where he ordered
eggs.  The waitress asked him how he wanted his eggs done, which stunned
Richard — in Australia, the cook chooses how one get’s ones eggs, not the
diner.  Once the choices were explained, he ordered, and then calculated
there were 56 different variations one could have on basic bacon and eggs in
this diner in America
— and said to himself, what a terrific country.

Richard is survived by his vibrant, thoughtful, and
extremely active wife Petra,
and their daughters Neris and Amrita.  There will be a public memorial
service in February: see the UC Berkeley and CITRIS websites (
for details.

The last sentence about Richard in my thesis acknowledgment
is haunting today: "I shall miss those conversations".  There
are thousands tonight, on every continent, who are thinking about what a truly
great man we have lost.  As we remember him and think of this tragic loss,
let us resolve to carry on a work that for him was a cause — to bend our
efforts, each day, to create for our fellowmen and our children a more
enlightened, healthier, and richer world.

Rick McGeer
HP External Scientific Programs