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In Memoriam: Former CRA Board of Directors Chair John R. Rice

CRA was saddened to learn of the recent passing of John R. Rice, former CRA Board of Directors member and Chair/Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Purdue University. 

The following tribute was written by current CRA Board Member and Professor of Computer Science Gene Spafford, with assistance by Simson Garfinkel. You can view the original posting on the Purdue University website here

John R. Rice, former CRA Board of Directors member and Chair/Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Purdue University

John Rischard Rice, a leading scientist and educator, died at home on January 7th, 2024. John was the W. Brooks Fortune Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Computer Science and a professor of mathematics at Purdue University. 

Rice was born on June 6, 1934, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Margaret L. and John K. Rice. He spent his childhood in several small towns in Oklahoma and three years in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when his father accepted an offer to be administrator of the government Technical School. After beginning undergraduate studies in chemical engineering, Rice obtained his B.S. and M.S. degrees in mathematics from Oklahoma State University in 1954 and 1956. While a student, he spent summers working on mathematical computing for the aerospace industry on the West Coast. 

After receiving his master’s degree, Rice enrolled in the California Institute of Technology, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1959 under the supervision of Arthur Erdélyi. He next took a postdoctoral position at the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST) and thereafter joined the staff of General Motors in Warren, Michigan.

In 1964, John left GM and joined the faculty of Purdue University as a full professor with a joint appointment between mathematics and the new computer science department, the nation’s first. In 1983 he became the department’s head, and his appointment changed to full professor of computer science with a courtesy appointment in mathematics. In 1989, he was appointed as the W. Brooks Fortune professor, which was shortly elevated to distinguished professor. He stepped down from department head in 1996, and transitioned to emeritus status in 2004.

Over his long career, Professor Rice authored over 300 articles and was the author or co-author of 25 book chapters and 21 books, including the widely-used textbook Introduction to Computer Science (1969).  His first article referencing computation was published while he was a college sophomore. He advised 19 students to obtain their Ph.D. degrees at Purdue. 

Professor Rice was noted for his work in mathematical computation, especially approximation theory, the solution of elliptic partial differential equations, analysis of algorithms, and scientific computing. Starting in the late 1970s, he led the creation of ELLPACK, software for solving elliptic problems, which was widely used in science and engineering. In 1970, he organized the first two Symposia on Mathematical Software and was the founding editor of the ACM Transactions on Mathematical Software (TOMS) in 1975; he remained editor-in-chief until 1993. In 1974, Rice co-founded IFIP (International Federation for Information Processing) working group 2.5 on mathematical software.

In 2001, Rice was a co-founder, with Purdue colleagues, of the company Arxan (now, specializing in producing digital anti-tamper technology.  He served as a scientific consultant and advisor to the company for several years.  He was a co-inventor of six patents related to this technology.

Among many professional activities and honors, John Rice was an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of the ACM, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He received the IFIP Silver Core Award in 1989 and a Sigma Xi Research Achievement Award in 1994. He served on the Computing Research Association (CRA) board of directors from 1987 to 1994 and was elected chair from 1991-1993.  A special ACM Transactions on Mathematical Software issue was issued in Rice’s honor in 2000 as volume 26, issue #2. Purdue named one of its research computing clusters “Rice” in honor of Professor Rice; it was decommissioned in January 2021, after five years of service.

John Rice married Nancy A. Bradfield in 1954. She predeceased him in 2008. Their two daughters, Amy L. Rice and Jenna Rice Thomas (spouse William R. Thomas), survive him. Rice remarried in 2010 to Janice Lauer, a Purdue emerita distinguished professor who predeceased him in 2021.

The family will have a private memorial service at a later date. Contributions to honor the memory of John Rice may be made to the “John R. Rice Fellowship in Scientific Computing Endowment” at Purdue University at this online address