Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Passing of Dr James Johannes

My normal blog entries cover technical issues.  This post is going to be very different.  It is an homage to the man who referred to himself as my academic grandfather because my Ph.D. advisor had been his first Ph.D. student.  A man I have had the pleasure of knowing and working for for almost twenty-five years.

Dr. James D. Johannes
Dr James Johannes (Dr J) passed away Tuesday May 17 2011 at the age of 76.  This came as a shock to those who knew him because he was a vibrant person.  He was the type of person that one just expected to always be there.  Until a few months ago, he came to the office nearly every day. Within the past few years, he earned his pilot's license for the first time.

Dr Johannes earned his Ph.D. in his early 40's from Vanderbilt University.  At the time, he lived in Huntsville and had two children (Mark and Michele) and commuted about 100 miles each way to take classes.  His dear wife Aurelia -- who was the epitome of a classy and tough southern lady -- supported him and the children through this.  This was clearly a factor in them being understanding and supportive of my finishing my Ph.D. with four small children in the house.  Aurelia appreciated what my wife Michele (not his daughter) was doing.

Dr Johannes founded On-Line Applications Research (OAR) Corporation in 1978.  He was an Emeritus Professor of the Computer Science department faculty at University of Alabama in Huntsville and was the first head of the department.  Based upon the number of dissertations on the shelves at OAR, he advised over twenty-five successful Ph.D. students. When he retired, he was serving as the Graduate Dean of the UAH College of Science.  He wrote the Thesis and Dissertation Style Guide required by the university that I followed on my own dissertation.  It certainly made it easier to get clarifications.

I first encountered Dr J as a student in Spring 1988.  I was taking the Ph.D. level Operating Systems class he was teaching. I must have made a good impression because after the class was over, I received a job offer.  I asked if they could hold the offer for a few months.  My daughter Jessica (now 22) had just been born and I wanted to make sure she passed her six-week check up before switching jobs.  In July 1988, I started work at OAR and my first project was RTEMS.  You should know the RTEMS story.

Dr J also could show pride in those around him. I was the lucky recipient of his special events twice.  The first was a company wide lunch at the Huntsville Country Club when I passed my Ph.D. defense!  He knew the system and didn't wait for graduation.

Twentieth Anniversary
The other special event was in 2009 when we celebrated my twentieth anniversary at OAR.

There are many Dr J stories but I will only share a few.  Long ago, he called me at home on a Saturday completely unexpectedly.  I assumed I was about to be fired and went to a quiet place in the house to take the call.  Dr J had that professorial demeanour that makes professional students always a bit leery. It turned out he needed some sysadmin help with a Solaris computer he had at home.  Why he had a Solaris computer at home I don't know.

He didn't like to dispose of old computers. OAR still has a CP/M computer with 8" floppy drives in storage.  The HP1000 was taken to his house after the OAR folks refused to move it to our third office location in the mid-1990s.  I think Aurelia finally made him dispose of it.

Dr J was loved and respected by a wide circle of people.  He will be missed.


  1. Joel, this was lovely...I know you're hurting right now, but this is a fitting collection of remarks about a man who completely changed your career.

  2. Thanks Michele. It is really strange not seeing him every day.

    The obituary is