Thursday, August 8, 2019

Tribute to Godfried by David Rappaport

I was lucky enough to be a graduate student of the School of Computer Science at McGill in the early eighties. It was there that I enrolled in a grad course with the nondescript title: “Topics in Computer Science”. Godfried taught the course and on the first day he gave it more descriptive title: “Thinking and Creating Knowledge”. For anyone who has had the pleasure of attending one or more of the many workshops that Godfried organized the title makes perfect sense. The Godfried Toussaint workshop where people gather to think and create knowledge have become legend.

Godfried was master at “thinking and creating knowledge”. As students we were required to solve an open problem in the course. It could be a problem of our own invention or one of several problems that Godfried suggested. We met and thought and some of us quit, and others came back and thought some more. There were seminars that we had to give. And always the thinking and creating. By the end of the term I and most of the others solved some of the problems. My problem turned out to be my PhD topic, and that was also true of others in the course.

I have attended too many of Godfried’s workshops to count. There is no question that we had fun at those workshops. However, I also know that behind the laid back facade Godfried would wake up early and stay up late working hard writing, or polishing, or reviewing, or thinking about the next new topic.

Godfried was a fountain of creativity, his ideas about exploring some new topic, or looking at known topics in different ways, came from him seemingly endlessly. It’s one thing to have the ideas, but Godfried also had a way of convincing others that his latest new idea was interesting and worthy of exploration.

We also played in a together in a band. The Algorhythmics rock band. Godfried as the drummer provided a rock solid bed which supported the rest of the band. That’s what Godfried did. He provided rock solid support that helped us do our best.

Godfried worked hard and played hard. I haven’t seen him in years, likely since he moved to Abu Dhabi. I now wish that I visited him there. Because now I miss him very much.

On the beach in front of Godfried's first workshop in 1986.