William A. Baird
August 4, 1942 - July 24, 1993
This eulogy was delivered by Annie Antón at the memorial service for gus Baird on Tuesday the 26th of July 1993 at the Wardlaw Center, Gordy Room. gus Baird was Annie's undergraduate advisor at Georgia Tech.
There's a tendency to make much of professors who impact us in a dramatic way. Without realizing it, we all relied on gus to be the ``everyday'' prof. The one who always said hello, always smiled, never pulled punches or was particularly politically correct. The one who just did neat things and tacitly expected everyone else to be capable of doing great things. gus was a true master of the day-to-day stuff which is so important and often times, unfortunately, overlooked.
gus touched each of our lives in a unique way. And, we will each remember different things about him.
Maybe we'll remember that he jogged everyday,
or that he was at school by 6:45 every morning,
or his big smile,
his funny hat,
his stories about HIS life as a student at Tech,
his crooked finger which he injured while playing handball,
his rat cap,
and of course, who could possibly forget his knickers?
Some might remember him for the colorful things he used to say such as: ``Like my old army lieutenent used to say, ``Ain't nothin' simple when you're doin' it for real.'' and ``If you aren't better programmers than me when you graduate then I haven't done my job.'' and ``I guess you could design a logical contortion that would let you get to the `end.', just to avoid something that has the flavor of the the infidel ``goto.'' Me, I have trouble with religions that make it that hard to get something virtuous accomplished.''
Some were astounded by gus' eating habits. Keith Edwards once saw him eat a block of cream cheese with a pocketknife for lunch. Nothing else. Of course, his favorite suppertime meal was the ``Russian Infantryman's Dinner:'' boiled cabbage, a sausage, and an ice-cold glass of vodka. If you were to complain to gus about the lab machines being monochrome, he would immediately reply,
``Color's for end-users.''
If you were to ask him to go over the use of the debugger, he'd reply:
``What do you want with a debugger?! You only need a debugger if you write code with bugs in it!''
gus was notorious for his coding stories from the ``good ol' days:'' Being able to tell which loop an embedded computer in a tank was in, by the amount of heat that it put out (it was under the footrest). and Optimizing code by knowing how long each instruction would last, and ordering the instructions on the drum memory so that just as each instruction would complete, the next would be under the read head. gus was present at a meeting that Dr. Crecine had with students in Techwood dorm. Dr. Crecine asked for input on how the computing environment at Tech should be improved. gus jumped up on top of a table and shouted (in reference to Cyber):
"Just get rid of that big iron bogeyroller!"
I'm not sure what a bogeyroller is, and apparently Dr. Crecine didn't either. I'm told he had a sort of confused, stunned look on his face.
All of these stories (or gus-isms) remind us of life as a student in gus' class. But what about gus the man, the professor, the advisor, our friend?
I had the pleasure of knowing gus for 7 years. I truly loved him. He was always very kind and had a profound impact on me in undergrad. Last night I pulled out my transcript to count how many times I withdrew from Calculus, Physics, and Combinatorics. gus signed six pink parachutes for me. And the thing I remember most from each of those interactions is the fact that he never simply signed and sent me on my way. He sat me down and said ``Oh no Ania, (as he's always called me) not again! What can we do? Is it the coursework? Are you taking a heavy load? Do you need a tutor? Is there anything I can do?'' He was always genuinely concerned about his students. As a professor and as an advisor, that was his main interest: his students.
I remember visiting gus at the hospital the day after his by pass surgery. Imagine my surprise when I stepped in his room and found him sitting up in a chair going through his briefcase of lecture notes. And then he jumped out of his chair to greet me. I expected to find him groggy and definitely idle. Not gus. He wasn't concerned about his surgery. He was intrigued by it. What he was truly concerned about was his students. How could they possibly make it through the rest of the quarter without him? He had all the exams made up it was just a matter of the lectures. He yearned to be back in the classroom ASAP. He was concerned about how his colleagues in the College could manage without him. He wanted to be back in time for Commencement. How could gus possibly miss a Commencement?
Ironically, gus visited my cubical for the first time ever last Thursday and I showed him a picture on my wall of him, the Dean and I from graduation last year. His picture will remain there and in every office I have from here on out. The man who got me my first job interview. The man who loved Cuban black beans. The man who wanted nothing more than to teach.
gus was a man who was truly loved by his students. I believe he was like a surrogate father to all the freshman & sophomore CS students. He was an excellent lecturer. People would go to his class just to here him. In the 1986 Course Critique, a student said he was the ``best lecturer on campus.'' And another said, ``He was willing and able to answer questions but seldom got any because his lectures covered most everything. Baird was effervescent!''
Effervescent . How appropriate.
When I think of gus the man, I'll remember the man who showed me, with pride, every new picture of his lovely daughters. The man who spoke of his horses, of guns, of the military. The man who at one time had been a seminarian.
gus lived each and every day of his life to its fullest and took great pleasure in it. Let's remember how much gus poured into everything he did, and try to do the same in our lives.
In the third book of Virgil's Aeneas, Aeneas at the end of a successful campaign gathered all his trojan warriors around him and delivered a noble and inspiring speech which he closed with these words: "It will be pleasing to us to remember these things hereafter." Memories are such precious gems, but the kind of memories we have depend not so much on the objective event as it does on ourselves. The memories we all have of gus are unique and they will give us inspiration in different ways.
It will be pleasing to us to remember gus. And today we've gathered to pay tribute to a man who has left us with memories that we will truly cherish for the rest of our lives.
Annie I. Antón
24 July 1993