Lyle McGeoch, Professor of Mathematics Amherst College mourns the passing of Lyle A. McGeoch, the Brian E. Boyle '69 Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science and chair of the Department of Computer Science, on Oct. 5, 2019.

On Oct. 6, President Biddy Martin and Provost and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein sent the following email to the campus community:

Dear Fellow Members of the Amherst Community,

It is with the greatest sorrow that we write to tell you of the passing of beloved Professor Lyle McGeoch, who died suddenly and unexpectedly at home yesterday of a heart attack. We wish we had a more personal way of sharing the news of this loss, which will be so deeply felt and personal for so many of us.  

We have spoken with Cathy McGeoch, Lyle’s wife and our colleague and friend, and have expressed our sympathies and tremendous sadness, on behalf of the entire Amherst community. Lyle was an extraordinary scholar, teacher, and mentor; the most generous of college citizens; and a kind, modest, and gentle man. As a class dean [most recently for the class of 2017], he earned a reputation for the care and compassion that he brought to his work with students, including the lengths to which he went to help those who struggled the most. He was also a cherished husband, father, and grandfather, who treasured his immediate and extended family—including the Amherst community, of which he was such an integral and admired member for more than thirty years.  

We will talk with Lyle’s colleagues, friends, and family about the most meaningful ways to celebrate his life and memory in the days and weeks ahead. In the meantime, we encourage you to let us know how we can be most helpful to you, as we mourn. We hope you will take comfort in one another during this very difficult time. The college will make support available, and we urge you to take advantage of it. [...]

It is impossible to convey in words how dearly and deeply Lyle will be missed.

Biddy and Catherine

The funeral service took place on Oct. 12 at Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley. An on-campus celebration of Professor McGeoch's life will be held in Johnson Chapel at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14, followed by a reception in Lewis-Sebring Dining Commons.

Please see this obituary for more information. 

We invite members of the Amherst College community to leave notes and remembrances by logging in and clicking “Add comment” below.

Comments

Ever since taking his Introductory Computer Science course a few semesters ago, Professor McGeoch has smiled and waved to me nearly every day, often during breakfast in the front room at Val, or while crossing paths on the way to the science center. I keep thinking back to a recent and particularly vivid memory I have from an event last week where, in a dark auditorium among a sea of faces, he caught my attention with an exagerrated wave and warm smile from across the room. I am only now becoming fully aware of how much these kind gestures have meant to me -- how much they added to my sense of belonging on campus. It is beyond sad to think that the campus has lost such an inspiring, thoughtful professor. I won't ever forget the kindness he has showed me.

I came to know Lyle in a variety of settings while he taught at Amherst College--all of them pleasant. I served on the Committee of Six when he stood for tenure, I saw him often around campus, and I was one of his frequent lunchmates at Lewis Sebring, where we chatted about a variety of matters and shared multiple experiences.  Lyle was a cosummate gentleman--kind, warm, polite, empathetic; he was a good listener and a sage advisor. Second to none I have known at Amherst, Lyle expressed deep interest in, and knowledge of, his students and colleagues.  The College will be less of a place without the presence of this lovely individual.

I admired Lyle for his gentle, welcoming spirit. He set a shining example of what it means to be a dedicated teacher, a judicious colleague, and a good citizen. He will be sorely missed.

Lyle's loss leaves a painful hole in our community. His myriad contributions as a teacher, advisor, colleague and leader will be impossible to fully replace. He will be missed at Amherst for a long, long time.

I had the privilege of getting to know Lyle McGeoch in two different settings: informally, at the lunch table in Lewis Sebring and through interactions with him in his capacity as a class dean.  He will be sorely missed for his invariable kindness, his profound wisdom, his gentle sense of humor and the genuine care and warmth he radiated for everyone around him.  Words can not express the sense of loss that his passing conveys.

Lyle taught my compiler design class, which was easily the most important computer science class I ever took. We spent the whole semester working on our C-- ("C-minus-minus") compilers, only to see him at the end of the semester accomplish the same thing in about a half-day's work with lex and yacc. Oh well!

I remember him fondly, and am very saddened to hear of his untimely death. Best wishes for comfort to Cathy, the rest of his family, and the Amherst community that is mourning now.

My condolences to Prof. McGeoch's family and colleagues for their sudden loss. He was a very gifted teacher who will be remembered fondly by many. 

I am deeply saddened by Lyle's passing. I have always admired his careful critical thought, his readiness to stand up for what was right, and his heartfelt compassion for others. He was a wonderful friend and inspiring mentor. I will miss him dearly.

I started CS at Amherst because of Lyle McGeoch.  In the first week of classes, at the class lightning talks, he presented problems to us that required a totally different sort of thinking and he delighted in working with us to find the answers.  A brilliant thinker, careful listener, hard-working facilitator, and giving teacher, Lyle McGeoch brought so much spirit and joy to everything he did.  He cared about his students deeply and would often stay in office hours until we all understood the material.  I also remember how he would jump around the classroom and excitedly pose questions to us, and if no one responded, would not hesitate to call on someone at random.  When a group of us started a Women in CS club at Amherst, we did not have great attendance at our lunches.  However, Professor McGeoch was there as often as he could be and there were several lunches where it would just be me and him in the WGC.  I contacted him late this summer, and he told me he was enjoying his last week in Canada but hoped I was doing well.  I hope he is doing well and I miss him.

Lyle was an amazing colleague and mentor that always had a bright smile, a quick laugh, and an insightful comment for any question I asked. I will miss his lunch-time conversation and his careful guidance.

<p>I'd arrived at Amherst in 1996 with very little exposure to Computer Science. In fact, I found myself in SMudd because of its Math classes, not Comp Sci. But then, I enrolled in Comp Sci 11. Professor McGeoch was my professor.&nbsp;<br>That class was one of my favorites at Amherst. It was in Comp Sci 11 that really learned how to code; in a now outdated language, Pascal. I remember our first programming assignment: to code a phone book. After a few minutes of tinkering with my roughly-written work, it finally worked! And, I was able to make the phone number lookup function work. I was so excited!</p>
<p>I remember Professor McGeoch, helping me to understand that it's not just about being right; but being clever. Could I write a program with fewer lines? Was I using objects (even though Pascal isn't an object-oriented language) correctly? How could I make my code clean? These listens of how to write code, have influenced my reasoning and decision-making skills for life!</p>
<p>In the classroom, Professor McGeoch, was a full-body instructor. He would move all over the room; using all three walls of chalk boards. He'd get chalk everywhere! On his hands, his face, the desk. &nbsp;He would stretch his arms out wide like he was going to fly away to illustrate some concept. He was excited and his enthusiasm was palpable. He definitely kept my attention&nbsp;and I am grateful to have had him as an instructor.</p>
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I served with Lyle on a faculty committee for several years during my time at Amherst. He treated all students as equals. He made us feel welcomed and loved. Kind and diligent, funny and self-effacing, he made Amherst the kind of place I am proud to say I graduated from. He was a special person.

Prof. McGeoch was an integral part of my education at Amherst.  His dedication to his craft and his students was beyond most teachers I have encountered -- I am blessed to have had the priviledge.  

Always smiling, Prof McGeoch was ready to help us navigate the toughest subjects and challenges.  It's amazing to reflect upon what he helped us achieve in class, therefore enabling us to dream bigger and reach for the stars.  

You are sorely missed, kind sir. 

I only had Professor McGeoch for a month in my data structures class, but a month was more than enough for me to get to love him as a professor and especially as a person. He was someone I loved talking to and was so welcoming that I never hesitated to go to him whenever I needed his help/advice. I still remember talking to him on Thursday after our midterm... I can't believe that I will no longer be able to see him. The smile that he always has on his face will never be forgotten. You will be greatly missed. You will always live in our memories. Rest in peace Professor McGeoch. 

My heart broke to read the news of Lyle's passing. I spent a considerable time babysitting for the McGeoch family during my freshman year. And while I didn't know Lyle as a professor, I was in deep admiration for his sweetness and dedication as a father. He had such a tender, close relationship to Ian and Alex. Again, my heart breaks to learn of this loss to the McGeoch's, and for all whose lives were touched by Lyle's kind soul. I wish healing and resilience to all those impacted, and celebrate the beautiful life of a beautiful person who left us all too soon.

Not long after I joined the faculty, we met Lyle and Cathy. They were so warm and welcoming, they made us feel as if we had been friends for years. What a loss to the community. 

I would not have graduated without Professor McGeough. He was my dean, and he helped me navigate a very difficult time in my life. His kindness will never be forgotten. 

I didn't come to CS until my senior year, but Professor McGeoch's warmth and energy were a big part of what made my few courses in the department memorable. He would always check in with everyone during lab sessions or when he handed back tests, which was so impactful to me because social anxiety often kept me from speaking much with professors. It was clear that he wanted to support and engage with every student, which, combined with his dynamic teaching style, made him a truly great professor. He will be sorely missed at Amherst.

My wife and I were shocked and saddened to learn of Lyle McGeoch’s passing. While we knew him only as Dean McGeoch, having never had the honor of sitting in one of his classes, we knew that he cared deeply about his students and the role of computer science in liberal arts education. Lyle was an honest, kind and gentle man who always greeted us with a smile and warmth. We remember him fondly and will miss him dearly. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family.

Lyle was one of the best. He was always there with a smile, a kind word, and an offer of help. I can't really put into words how sad I am at his passing. He was a integral part of the life of the College. He embodied the kind of person we all hope to be but often fall short of achieving. I will miss him greatly. 

I took more courses from Professor McGeoch than from anyone else in my academic career. He was a wonderful advisor and mentor. He supervised my senior thesis on the traveling salesperson problem. When I was applying to graduate school in CS, I came to him with a short list of the schools that I was planning to apply to. He suggested I expand the list a bit. In my immaturity and arrogance, I pushed back. In a gentle way, he made such a compelling case that I expanded the list. Ultimately, for one of the schools that he suggested I add, I got in to the school, fell in love with the school, went there, met my spouse-to-be there, and launched my own career as a CS professor, motivated by Professor McGeoch's guidance, support, and example. He served as a role model for me. I will miss him.

 

Professor McGeoch was one of my favorite professors at Amherst and his course on Data Structures changed my brain and still informs the way I think on an everyday basis. Thirteen years and many moves later, I still have the notes and coursework from his class with me. In re-reading them through this sad lens I was struck again by what a great, thorough teacher he was - and - how even his handwriting was enthusiastic. He epitomized what I loved most about my best professors at Amherst: he didn’t just (adeptly) teach you complicated concepts, he also taught you how to be a better human, by example. Professor McGeoch’s keen brain could have worked anywhere in Silicon Valley and yet he chose instead to dedicate himself to teaching and to the community: in my (lucky) case, a class of 8 students, in the windowless basement of Seeley Mudd.

I’ll be forever grateful I was able to take that class from him; I’m so saddened to hear of his passing. My sincere condolences to the family and to the community.