Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Remembering Godfried by Selim Akl

I first met Godfried in the summer of 1975. For the next 44 years I called him my friend.
As a graduate student in the School of Computer Science at McGill University, I enrolled in a sequence of courses taught by Godfried. He introduced me to the fascinating world of computational geometry, a field still in its infancy in the mid-1970s.

Godfried was only four years older than me and we shared many interests, algorithms of course, but also music and theatre. And we were both single. Every evening, when everyone at the School had gone home, there were two people left in Burnside Hall, Godfried and me. We worked, separately or together, until one of us asked if the other wanted to go out for dinner. Most times we ended up at the Basha where we enjoyed Lebanese food while solving geometry problems on the paper napkins. It was great fun, especially when we relished in discovering counterexamples to published algorithms.

The first problem we worked on together was the convex hull and this led to my first ever journal publication. Later, we began a book on convex hull algorithms, but eventually our interests took us elsewhere and sadly this project was never completed.

Godfried was a researcher who had an amazing ability to get people excited about problems. His flashes of intuition were spectacular and hard to resist. We all wanted to keep up. We wanted to be part of this exciting adventure. He was a leader and the founder of many areas of research in computer science. As this tribute page testifies, he supervised numerous graduate students who have gone on to become influential academics in their own right, as well as industry leaders. Many of his papers are landmarks, and some of his ideas opened up entire new directions of investigation. His writing is an example of engaging and lucid prose. Generations of researchers were inspired by his pioneering work in computational geometry. His originality, his creativity, and his boundless energy and enthusiasm for knowledge are legendary.

Godfried and I collaborated on many research projects over the years, and I was always impressed, not only by his quick and brilliant mind, but also by the generosity of his spirit, and his immediate willingness to share credit for an achievement.

In 2017 when a group of colleagues kindly decided to put together a Festschrift for me, Godfried was the first to submit a paper entitled Simple Deterministic Algorithm for Generating “Good” Musical Rhythms, which appeared as the first chapter in the volume.

When, for Christmas 1980, my future wife and I took our first trip together, we were Godfried’s guests at his home in Montreal. He was a most courteous and generous host. In those days, Godfried was an active and talented dancer, and belonged to a ballet jazz group. It was a thrill to watch him dance. On the occasion of our visit, Godfried and a friend performed for us, in his living room, to the music of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune by Claude Debussy. It was magical and unforgettable. In July of the following year, Godfried was a guest of honour at our wedding.

Dear Godfried: I miss you already, rest in peace my friend.