Remarks by Tim Quigg at His Retirement Reception
May 30, 2013
After hearing such kind words many people would simply say they were speechless, express their thanks and sit down – but you all know that “being speechless” just isn’t me. And the program says that I get the “The Last Word,” so here goes!
Comedian George Burns once said it was a challenge to address folks at a retirement party because about half the people in the room were there to honor the retiree and the other half just wanted to be sure “the rascal didn’t change his mind!” Regardless of your reason, I sincerely appreciate all of you being here today for what my son Seth has been calling Dad’s Graduation.
Let me take a moment to introduce you to each other. About 2/3rds of you are friends and colleagues from the UNC community – faculty, administrators, staff and students from the Computer Science department or from somewhere else on campus, and about 1/3rd of you are from outside the UNC community. We have about a dozen friends and neighbors from Wake Forest here today and a like number from my home church – Youngsville Baptist. By my count there are eight lawyers in the house, and amazingly I actually like all of them. Others include two Baptist preachers, a retired Chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners who was also a Tuskegee Airman (that’s Harold Webb sitting over there), a member of the NC Sports Hall of Fame (actually two if you count Tony Waldrop’s virtual presence), the president of the NC Black Storytellers Association and her two daughters (one is our god-daughter and the other seems like she is too), we also have four of my Sigma Chi fraternity brothers from WFU (I’ll bet you never thought you’d attend an event like this back then), two colleagues from those early days of integration in NC when I was the 1st white male teacher at Dobbs School – the all black girls state reform school, my two sisters-in-law (Patricia Talley and Jeanne Cooper), a retired Chair of the Wake County Board of Education (that would be my wife Kathryn), our son Seth, and so many other special people who have graced my life with friendship and support. Thank you all for being here today!
And by the way, the public safety office has reported a slight disturbance in the Tar Heel atmosphere this afternoon - likely the result of an extremely large contingent of Demon Deacon fans in the house!
It was New York Yankee and Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez who once said “I’d rather be lucky than good.” I’ve always liked that statement because I relate to it so well! Three especially lucky days come to mind!
1.The first started as just an average summer day in 1969. I was sitting in the Student Government office at Wake Forest University renting small dorm room refrigerators to summer school students. I looked up and there stood the most beautiful girl I had ever seen - a transfer student named Kay Watson. It took me till September of 1971 to convince her to marry me in an outdoor ceremony by the grape arbor in Reynolda Gardens, just off the WFU campus and somehow I have convinced her to stay with me for nearly 42 years. Some would say that goes way beyond luck into the realm of the unbelievable. By the way, Kathryn is perhaps the person most affected by my retirement – You see I won’t be leaving the house every morning giving her 10-12 hours (sometimes more), of peace and quiet - so please keep her in your thoughts and prayers.
2. Then there was that special day in 1982 when the Quigg household – which for 11 years had consisted of one man, one woman and three cats, welcomed a new baby boy into our family, our son Seth who just happens to be one of the most interesting people I know. He’s an outdoor educator and instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School and for World Challenge Expeditions and somehow manages to get paid to travel the world taking groups of young people on wilderness excursions and multi-cultural experiences. By the way I’m not the only one who is “graduating” - Seth just finished his Master’s Degree at Prescott College in Arizona. We’re proud of you son.
3. The third lucky day was a messy mid-winter day in 1995. I was working at my desk at the UNC Office of Contracts and Grants at 440 West Franklin Street when I received a call from Captain Ralph Mason. I had worked with Ralph on several projects over the previous 3 years, and had spoken with him many times. Ralph explained that he would be retiring from the Computer Science Department at the end of June, and he thought I should apply for his position. What a lucky day that was!
I guess you’ve figured out by now that I like to tell stories, so let me share a few that will help you to see why this “dyed in the wool” Demon Deacon, has come to love this piece of Blue Heaven so very much.
1. I had only been on the job about 6 weeks when a new graduate student from Bulgaria appeared at my door a few days before classes began. His name was Vassil and he explained that he had flown from Sofia to JFK, made the connection to RDU, got a taxi to campus and came directly to my office. He had many questions and I could feel his excitement as he prepared to begin his graduate studies. Now, you need to understand the context of this interaction from my perspective. I had grown-up during the height of the Cold War – you know, Sputnik, “duck and cover” – the whole thing. Now here I was sitting across the small round table in my office from a student who had spent most of his formative years behind the “Iron Curtain.” He had never been to the U.S. before, but there he was – ready to begin this new chapter of his life and I was the first person other than flight attendants and taxi drivers to interact with him. What an honor and what an incredible responsibility. Since that day, I have never wavered from my belief that the university exists to serve students, not the other way around! If we stay focused on what is best for our students, we’ll make good decisions about all the other things!
2. Not long thereafter, Fred Brooks came to my office, sat at that same round table and said “I need some advice.” My mind immediately went to this rather strange place where all I could think was that Fred Brooks, manager of the IBM 360 project, author of the Mythical Man Month, founder of the department, one of the top computer scientists in the world wants my advice. How cool is that! I don’t remember anything about the specifics of his request, but I knew from that moment on that I had stumbled into an incredible opportunity where I could actually be an active participant in world-class research – not as a scientist or an inventor, but as an enabler of scientific research and the inventive process! And to be an effective enabler, I needed to be just as good at what I did as Fred was at what he did – an extremely ambitious goal I know, but why bother setting goals if they don’t push you toward excellence!
3. Sometime between my interaction with the student from Bulgaria and that discussion with Fred, Steve Pizer appeared at my door. He said “I think it’s important for you to know what I do,” and he immediately went to the white board in my office and began giving a rather detailed lecture on his research in medical image display and analysis. I struggled with some of the terminology but took rather copious notes and later did some reading before Steve returned for the second lecture. I so appreciated Steve’s direct approach because he helped me to realize that in order to be an effective enabler, I needed to understand what I was enabling.
4. This lesson served me well because in 1996 I worked with University Counsel David Parker (he’s one of the lawyers here today that I like) to negotiate a license with HP for patent rights to the PixelPlanes/PixelFlow technology developed in Henry Fuchs’ lab. It was (at the time) the largest licensing deal in the history of the university. I learned first-hand the importance of moving research results out of the labs and into the marketplace to develop useful products and new companies that stimulate the local, state and national economies. This is what major research universities do in the 21st century! Since then, the CS department has actively licensed patents and copyrights to industry and we have spun-out six new companies.
5. The last story I want to share deals with a phone call I received one day many years ago from a recent PhD graduate called Gopi who was a new faculty member at UC-Irvine. But a little background information is required first. Sometime during the 1999/2000 academic year a few faculty members asked me to prepare a talk covering recent changes in federal research grant policy. It was well received, so they asked for more – faculty tend to do that! This experience helped me to recognize that in order to be an effective enabler I had to go beyond just “doing” to “teaching others how to do for themselves.” So I developed the “Research Administration for Scientists” course (Comp 918) and have taught it annually since 2001. Over 600 graduate students, post-docs, junior faculty and staff from 40 different UNC departments have taken it. Now back to Gopi’s call. He was furious with me - demanding to know why I waited till the year after he graduated to offer this course. As a brand new faculty member, he needed the information covered in the course and he needed it now. So we taped the lectures and sent them to him. He watched them with a group of other new faculty at UC-Irvine and we met weekly over the phone to discuss issues and deal with their questions.
During my years at UNC, I have served with 5 different Chancellors, 6 different Deans and 3 different Department Chairs. But within my immediate staff there has been only one University Business Manager – Katrina Coble, only one IT Director – Brian White, only one HR Manager – Donna Boggs, only one Manager of the Research Support and Communication Group – Missy Wood and until she retired a year ago, only one Accounting Manager – Catherine Perry. We have had an extremely stable staff for all these years and I believe it is in part because each of them derives well-earned pride from their role as an enabler of the education, research and public service mission of this top 20-ranked department - and also because we have simply enjoyed working together. I know I have. So to each member of this wonderful staff, to every faculty member I have worked with and to the many students I have served, I say – thank you. And a special thanks to Steve Weiss for giving me the chance to for 18 wonderful years have what I tell our incoming graduate students each fall during orientation, is the best job I have ever had or could ever imagine having!