Saturday, July 07, 2018

Dennis McKean (1947-2018)

To my regret I had not spoken with Dennis McKean for 20 years. Last month Dennis succumbed to duodenal cancer.

(Digression: what is the protocol when you meet someone through a blood relative, and the marriage ends in divorce? Continuing to communicate is awkward if you value the relationship with the blood relative and everyone in her family.)

We attended Dennis' memorial service at his home in the South Bay. His relatives and friends spoke eloquently about the man whose brilliance was known by few outside his immediate circle. An inveterate reader of history, Dennis had a "photographic memory" and could reference passages that he read years ago. His daughter asked that guests help themselves to books from Dennis' library. I chose Paul Johnson's The Birth of the Modern, which I'll be lucky to finish by the end of the year (Dennis read a book a week).

He was Phi Beta Kappa at UC-Berkeley and earned a Masters in Chemistry from Stanford. His former boss at IBM said at the memorial that he was so impressed with Dennis' work that the company moved his family to Fort Collins and paid for his PhD at Colorado State. Dennis spent 16 years at IBM, then moved on to Seagate. Most recently Dennis was a professor at UC-Merced and a consultant who spent years in Hong Kong. A colleague at Merced read testimonials from Dennis' students, many of whom had returned to Asia.

A list of 44 patents on which Dennis is named is found here.

A quiet man, Dennis chatted about lighthearted matters--sports, travel--at social gatherings, but for the most part he listened. Now I wish he had talked more and that I was doing the listening. R.I.P.

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