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Professor Geoffrey Cook

Geoffrey Cook

Colleagues will be saddened to learn of the death, on 3 March 2006, of Professor Geoffrey Cook, former Professor of Computational Science and Director of the Electronic Computing Laboratory.

Born in 1928, Geoffrey Cook went up to Selwyn College, Cambridge, in 1946. He took Part II of the Natural Sciences (Physics) Tripos in 1949 and in the following year was the Mayhew Prizeman in Part III of the Mathematical Tripos, in which he obtained a Distinction. He remained at Cambridge to read for a PhD in quantum chemistry, as a member of the internationally acclaimed group headed by S F Boys, and was awarded his doctorate in 1954. As a foretaste of his later academic interests, he made extensive and advanced use of the original Cambridge EDSAC I and II valve computers in the course of his research.

Having worked for several years as a senior scientific officer at the Royal Armaments Research Establishment, Geoffrey Cook was head-hunted by Dr Sandy Douglas, the first Director of the Electronic Computing Laboratory at Leeds, to be his deputy. The new discipline, then in its infancy, was part of the Department of Mathematics. Initially appointed as a Lecturer in Electronic Computing in September 1957 the year in which, in a landmark development for computer science in the UK, the University acquired its first computer Geoffrey Cook went on to play a vital role in the inception of computing services at Leeds and to achieve national recognition for his pioneering work in establishing computer science as an academic discipline. This was reflected in his becoming one of the first and most eminent Fellows of the British Computer Society. He became Director of the Computing Laboratory at Leeds in 1960, retaining this title when, in 1965, he was made the Universitys first Professor of Computational Science. Two years later Computational Science assumed independent departmental status, with Geoffrey Cook as Head of Department. The 1960s proved to be a decade of heady expansion and development on both the academic and service sides. What was to become the University Computing Service was effectively created in this period, with very substantial growth in staff numbers, the replacement of the Ferranti Pegasus computer by the English Electric KDF9 in 1964, and a move to new accommodation. Academic developments included the translation of the postgraduate diploma into an MSc in Electronic Computation and the introduction of specialist BSc degrees. Geoffrey Cook balanced with great facility the twin demands of an expanding academic discipline and a vastly increased service load, with its attendant technical and organisational problems. Many departments benefited from the skill and knowledge he built up in computing, and the willing collaboration and support he offered. He himself was an outstanding teacher whose courses, years in advance of developments elsewhere, acquainted graduates in a range of subjects with techniques for solving problems using computers. His reputation led to his being chosen to serve on both the Council and the Education Committee of the British Computer Society. He was also active in the Universitys Anglican Chaplaincy, becoming a church warden in the Emmanuel Church and serving on the Church of England Board of Education. From 1957 to 1960, he was Sub-Warden of Lyddon Hall, highly regarded by both students and staff colleagues. Geoffrey Cook was also a Freeman of the City of London.

In order to have more time for research, Geoffrey Cook relinquished his existing responsibilities in 1969, in order to become the first Director of the Computer Based Learning Project which was established in the Department of Education with financial support from the Science Research Council and the Social Science Research Council. Two years later, he resigned from Leeds and was Visiting Professor in Computational Science at the University of Liverpool from 1971 to 1974. In the latter year, he was recruited by the University of Hull as its first Professor and Head of Department of Computer Studies, a post he was to hold until 1983. Throughout his time in Liverpool and Hull, he maintained his home in Leeds and, upon leaving Hull, who shortly afterwards conferred upon him the title of Emeritus Professor, he returned to this University in 1984 as a Principal Teaching Fellow. Over the next seven years, Geoffrey Cooks long-established research and teaching interests in numerical analysis and cognate areas proved of considerable value to the University, and the School of Computer Studies in particular. Among his numerous other interests, Geoffrey Cook was a keen gardener: over many years his allotment provided fresh vegetables for a local Hospice.

Geoffrey Cook retired in September 1991. Writing in the University Review at that time, Denis Hutchinson commented that:

Geoff Cook has always led by example, but he will be best remembered by his colleagues for his humanity, his extreme modesty and his unfailing good humour: even as an overburdened Head of Department he would give his time unstintingly to help staff or student alike.

Following his retirement, Geoffrey Cook returned to Cambridge, living very close to Selwyn College, where he was pleased to dine from time to time, and to attend Chapel.