In memory of our colleague, Professor Emeritus (Richard) Bruce Simpson, 1940–2020

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

photo of Professor Emeritus Richard, Bruce SimpsonComputer Science Professor Emeritus Bruce Simpson of Waterloo, Ontario, passed away on December 11, 2020 at Freeport Hospital in Kitchener. Bruce had been living with Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia for several years.

Bruce was born on May 26, 1940, in Leamington, Ontario, to Agnes Bruce and Richard Simpson. He was raised in Toronto and attended Humberside Collegiate. He graduated in 1962 with a BSc in math, physics and chemistry from the University of Toronto. He then completed an MASc in aeronautical engineering at Toronto in 1963 and a PhD in applied mathematics at the University of Maryland in 1966.

Bruce continued his academic career by pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship at California Technical Institute from 1966 to 1968. He then became an Assistant Professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York from 1968 to 1971. He returned to Canada in 1971 as an Assistant Professor in Waterloo’s Department of Applied Analysis and Computer Science, as it was then known. His research interests were in mesh generation and triangulation. Bruce retired from Waterloo officially on June 1, 2005, but continued as an adjunct faculty member at the School of Computer Science.

Bruce served as the Chair of Waterloo’s Department of Computer Science from 1984 to 1987, at which time he was on the Formative Committee for the Information Technology Research Centre. In the 1990s, Bruce served on the Graduate Appraisal Panel for the Ontario Council of Graduate Studies. He was honoured to be named a ‘Pioneer of Computing in Canada’ by IBM in 2005. Both as a Chair and as a senior faculty member, Bruce enjoyed welcoming new computer science faculty members, and he was a mentor, colleague and friend to many over his years.

Bruce maintained an active lifestyle. He enjoyed many sports including lacrosse, basketball, hockey, squash, skiing, and tennis. He continued to play tennis well into his time living with Parkinson’s. He greatly enjoyed music, both classical and popular styles, and played the piano. Family camping trips and travel were favourite recreational activities. Bruce embraced opportunities to live abroad during his sabbaticals in England and France. His career also provided opportunities for travel to a wide variety of international locations.

As the son of a United Church minister, he continued to enjoy the church community as an adult and was an engaged member of Knox Waterloo Presbyterian Church, where he was involved in the Men’s Group.

Bruce is pre-deceased by his mother, father and first wife, Gwen Simpson. He is survived by many loved ones including his wife, Janis, his children (Chris/Jim, Jackie/Matt, Rick/Roshni, Geoff/Jane), ten grandchildren, and his sister, Elizabeth. Bruce maintained loving relationships with extended family members and a multitude of lifelong friends.

A cremation has taken place and a small family funeral will be held. A time for all to join the family in a Celebration of Life will be announced.

Bruce’s family asks that those wishing to honour him consider donations to Knox Waterloo, the Alzheimer’s Society, Grand River Hospital, or the Parkinson’s Society.

Recollections from colleagues

Distinguished Professor Emeritus Alan George
Bruce and I arrived at Waterloo less than six months apart. I was Waterloo’s “April Fool’s joke” with an appointment date of April 1, 1971. Bruce arrived on the conventional appointment date of July 1.

The intersection of our research interests was somewhat accidental. He was an expert in domain decomposition (algorithms to automatically subdivide domains according to specific parameters) and made pivotal contributions to that research area. My interest in that area was less central. My doctoral thesis was on computer implementation of the finite element method, and one of the subproblems in that task is to triangulate the domain of interest before applying the method. The bottom line: we had a shared interest and frequently swapped intelligence.

Bruce was a person anyone would treasure as a colleague. He was engaged, friendly and approachable, and never judgmental. He made new faculty members welcome and comfortable. Computer science at Waterloo is immensely better for having had him as a faculty member.

My sincere condolences to Bruce’s family. The ache that I feel will not go away soon.

University Professor J. Ian Munro
Bruce joined computer science at Waterloo in 1971, the year about nine of us did, increasing the complement of faculty to about 25. At 31 years of age, Bruce was the senior member of the new crew. Three of us — Alan George, Bruce and I — had the rest of our careers in what became the Computer Science Department, then the School of Computer Science at Waterloo.

While Bruce’s research, particularly later in his career, focused mostly on mesh generation and triangulation, it covered much of numerical analysis to a point that he, at least once, referred to himself as an “itinerant numerical analyst.”

In the mid 1970s, Bruce and I coached an Atom hockey team. I have memories of us picking up and rearranging players on the bench, retying skates and driving kids around. A couple of years later we both had sabbaticals in England and managed to pass a used Datsun Cherry between us as we left and Bruce and his family arrived. It must have been a tight fit for five Simpsons, but for all that Cherry provided months of weekend exploration.

Later, around the time Janis came into the picture, Bruce and I were up to our ears in meetings of the Formative Committee for the Information Technology Research Centre. I recall not only (too) many a trip to Toronto and environs, but also the joy of working with Bruce and the rest of the team to establish (and fund) the Centre. Bruce continued to work selflessly throughout his career for the benefit of the Department and the University.

I greatly miss my good friend and colleague of almost half a century, and I extend my heartfelt condolences to Bruce’s family.

Distinguished Professor Emeritus Peter Forsyth
Bruce and I were colleagues in computer science at Waterloo for many years. My fondest memory of Bruce was his enthusiasm for organizing social functions, usually involving graduate students and faculty members in scientific computing. Summer picnics at local conservation areas required detailed car-pooling arrangements, lists of food and drink, and rounding up of graduate students on the day in question. Even when faced with a pile of exams to mark, it was impossible to avoid Bruce’s insistence on participating in the pre-Christmas beer-drinking session at a local pub. Things certainly went downhill from the social angle after Bruce retired. We will all miss him.

Professor Gladimir Baranoski
Bruce was a very honorable man. More than a colleague, I considered him a true friend. I am very sad for his passing, but glad for the privilege to have known him. During my first years in Waterloo, he was one the persons who helped me the most through his positive attitude and encouragement. I will always be very grateful for that.

I wish to give my sincere condolences to his family. He left us, but his principles and examples of integrity and friendship will stay with us forever.

Professor Daniel M. Berry
I took numerical methods from Bruce in 1968, when I was a junior at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Bruce was a brand new assistant professor. I loved the class because Bruce was a good teacher and he gave us assignments that required us to write and run programs! When I arrived at Waterloo in 1998 as a new prof, he approached me as someone out of his past. I remembered him instantly. I was surprised that Bruce remembered me, just one of the many, many undergraduate students he has taught. While we were in entirely different areas, we had interesting conversations over the years on the impact of computer science on life in general.

I remember inviting Bruce and Janis to my house for dinner one evening. I made a mistake and gave him the wrong address. From a temporary fixation on RPI, I had given him the street address of my apartment in Troy, NY, where RPI is. Because I was busy cooking, I was not answering any e-mail. Fortunately, I was listed in the phone book and he found my address there, when he realized that there was no such street in Waterloo.

I will miss him. May his name be a blessing to all who remember him.

Wendy Rush
Bruce was among the kindest and gentlest souls I’ve known. We met in 1981, when I worked in the Department of Pure Mathematics, some years before joining the Department of Computer Science. At the time, Bruce served as the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies for the Faculty. Although he was always busy, he never missed an opportunity to be helpful to staff.

I fondly recall one particular Computer Science Christmas dinner at South Campus Hall, a gala event that featured a live band. We ate our meals and talked for most of the evening, but just as the band began to play a number with a jitterbug beat, up sprang Bruce and his wife. All eyes were on them as they glided across the floor.

My deepest condolences to Bruce’s wife, Janis, and to his extended family. I will greatly miss his smile, slow laugh and kindness.

Robert M. Corless, Emeritus Distinguished University Professor, Western University; Adjunct Professor, Cheriton School of Computer Science
Bruce was a great advisor. He was also a co-author on my first paper, in 1983.

I was the excuse to cross-appoint Bruce to Applied Math at Waterloo! I arrived, arrogant, in 1980, in CS to do a master’s. Bruce was my assigned advisor. (I never learned the mechanism: I thought then that advisors just happened.) I didn’t like the course requirements in CS: Digital Networks? Pfui. And I’d had a great course in complexity from JM Kennedy at UBC so I thought I didn’t need another. So, I walked over to Applied Math and asked if I could switch in. I had an NSERC. They said, of course, but let’s cross-appoint Bruce so he can still be your advisor. They added Gary Lastman so I had a co-adviser, but they were very happy to acknowledge Bruce and make that connection.

Over the next two years I had a number of adventures, but Bruce taught me a lot about patient working and careful checking. I met with him at irregular intervals (he let me set the pace) and he would gently question me. I remember once I had convinced him the approach we were taking wasn’t working (only linear convergence). Then I redid my Jacobian matrix using a then very new Maple and found my sign error. I still remember his explosive “hah!” and him then saying that I had actually convinced him that the approach wasn’t working. But with my mistake corrected, it worked perfectly.

Eight years after I graduated, a now-famous computational scientist did essentially this same work (quite a bit better, I have to admit) for his PhD. Bruce was ahead of his time.

Bruce also introduced me to some interesting computational work being done at Atomic Energy Canada Labs and flew me out to Winnipeg to give a talk. I gave the talk and had a good time, but declined further opportunities there. Winnipeg didn't work for me (ticks in the summer and dreadful cold in the winter, according to the tales, which I believed) so I wound up doing something different after I left Waterloo.

But many years later, Bruce told me that he was proud to have been my advisor. I am still warmed by that. He taught me a lot, especially about graduate supervision (but also mesh generation). I think that my students owe him some things as well, indirectly. I have tried to live up to his example.

I extend my deepest sympathies to Bruce’s family.

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