Remembering Gus German (1942–2022), pioneer in Waterloo computer science

Monday, March 14, 2022

We are saddened to announce that Robert Angus “Gus” German — one of the original “WATFOR kids” — passed away on March 12, 2022 at age 79.

Gus is remembered by friends and colleagues in the Cheriton School of Computer Science and the Faculty of Mathematics as one of the pioneers who helped establish the university’s reputation as a leader in computer science in the 1960s.

photo of the WATFOR kids with Gus German

In June 1965, Gus German (seated), Robert Zarnke, and Hugh Williams solved the Archimedes Cattle Problem. No complete solution to the problem had been devised by mathematicians in more than 2000 years. The problem was first proposed by the Greek mathematician Archimedes of Alexandria in 200 BC.

The Waterloo team used a combination of the IBM 7040 and 1620 computers to produce the solution, which had more than 200,000 digits. When they successfully solved the problem, Wes Graham contacted major newspapers to ensure that the team, who had laboured in their spare time, received full credit for their work.

Photo courtesy of the Waterloo Special Collections, Don Cowan

Gus was a member of the “WATFOR kids,” a group of outstanding students working under the supervision of Professor Wesley Graham, who developed a new software system for the university’s cutting-edge IBM 7040 computer. The group named the new compiler program WATFOR, an acronym for Waterloo Fortran compiler. The innovation drew widespread attention to Waterloo’s computer science program.

As the 40 years of Computer Science resource on the Cheriton School of Computer Science’s site notes, “by November 1965, five Canadian schools, eleven American installations and one in Switzerland had requested a copy of WATFOR. By June of 1966, requests were received from an additional two Canadian locations, thirty-six American, and six international installations.”

After his time at Waterloo, Gus went on to establish a successful business, the Geac Computer Corporation, which provided enterprise and resource management software to organizations.

Read more about Gus’s remarkable life in the obituary in the Globe and Mail.

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