Bob Kessler Tribute

If you are interested in submitting a tribute or memory of Bob, please send email to

I first met Bob when he was a graduate student working on his Ph.D under Martin Griss and served as a member of his dissertation advisory committee. I knew Bob in many contexts: student, employee, research and faculty colleague, poker player, pitcher on our IM softball team called the Cyber somethings, etc. Most importantly he was my friend. The news of his passing hit me hard. I have too many Bob stories to tell even though they’ve been running through my head ever since I heard the tragic news. Bob never self-promoted despite his prodigious talents and success. He always gave credit to others. The quality of Bob’s efforts are clear. Bob consistently had two pieces of magic that were more hidden unless you worked closely with him. He created an environment for his colleagues and students that was fun, energetic, and productive. It’s not like whining wasn’t allowed, it’s just that there was no need to whine. The second piece of magic is very rare. Bob made the people around him smarter. He was a renowned teacher and that definitely helped but he had this intangible trait that acted more catalytic than any direct instruction could provide. I witnessed his catalytic magic many times. Particularly in today’s world, we need more magic and we definitely need more Bob’s.
Al Davis

Really bummed at the Bob Kessler news.  Many of the recent hires didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him, which is unfortunate.  He was a true role model in how to pursue impact while being completely uninterested in ego and credit.  Of course, the students knew what a giant he was.  I often made the mistake of standing next to him in the CoE graduation line — by far, he received the most hugs and genuine handshakes from students.  He was also an excellent host for our golf outings.  On my prospective visit, either Bob or Erik Brunvand arranged two rounds of golf with me at Wingpointe and Bonneville — he played a major part in me joining Utah  even though I think I shot 101 or 106.

Rajeev Balasubramonian

I did not know Bob well, he seemed to be semi-retired when I joined — or on the way there.  But what I recall is he realized the EAE program that he had been building was taking off, and basically came back out of retirement, or put his retirement plans on hold, to ensure it got its due place.  (I’d be glad to hear more or get details filled in from those who may know better).  This program really broke many molds around the university, and I am sure it required a huge sustained effort to make it the true exemplar for games that it is today.

Jeff Phillips

Bob is a giant. Let me tell you all the things he has unassumingly done to the SoC: Launched the MayFly project (Eric Eide found a bug in the MayFly hardware — Al Davis proudly mentions) which launched a mega HP/Utah collaboration. When I joined Utah, we all got HP-UX machines which was part of a special HP deal that Bob swung. He built a huge name for Utah in PL (Lisp). His group occupied the full East Penthouse those days, and was a powerhouse PL group. They had emails such as “car@caar”, “jed@cdr”, “shebs@cons”, … During dept show/tell, Kwan-Liu Ma (in Kessler’s group then – now superstar at UC Davis) was right paren. He switched away from Lisp and embraced SW Engg. He was an amazing Department Chair, making strong hires and organized many a social. Won Best Teaching awards many times. Was about to retire but then got re-energized and founded a one-of-a-kind EAE which came in the top-ranked EAE depts in the nation (still might be). Above all, the nicest guy I know!! Julie and Bob adopted two adorable kids then. I once cooked South Indian Saambar for them which they loved. He will be really missed.

Ganesh Gopalakrishnan

Here is my favorite Bob story: I took a class from him as a ugrad (don’t remember which one), and on the last day of class, he came in with a big Costco pack of snacks for everyone in the class, then announced that the final was canceled, then – coincidentally, I’m sure – passed around the course evaluation forms (which were still on paper at the time).

Rob Ricci

I’m heartbroken too. Bob was such a nice guy and a beloved teacher. I learned a lot about teaching from him when I took over CS4500 from him long time back. He was so warm and compassionate with the students, and he genuinely wanted every student to do well. Every. Single. One. And fun factoid: Bob taught the “AI sequence” when I arrived here, which consisted of AI, Lisp (his Utah Common Lisp, of course!), and Expert Systems — we were on quarters then. With his blessing, in 1995 (!) I updated the AI sequence to replace Lisp & ES with new NLP and ML courses. He was happy to be able to focus on his growing software engineering interests, although I thought of him as an AI guy for quite a while. 🙂

Ellen Riloff

Very sad news! I’ve known Bob for more than 30 years.  He was always smiling, always positive and very kind.  He enjoyed sending out links to amusing websites and he was a big Disney fan.  Here is a link to a Disney Fail he enjoyed:  When Bob was Chair of CS, he had a screen saver that continually counted down the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds he still had on his three year term as Chair. I was just looking through the more than 1500 emails from Bob over the years.  Many fond memories!

Chris Johnson

Bob was one of my Associate Directors for Soc and proved to be simply wonderful to work with. In one of my many conversation with him he laid out a vision for EAE. The only problem was the financial crisis the University and the State was in. Why don’t you come up with a business plan to make the program bootstrap itself using the extra fees I suggested. Bob thought about it for a very short time and said that he though it could be done. That was all it took. Bob was off and running and never looked back.
About 15 months after that conversation about twenty MS students started the program. Bob worked tirelessly and passionately to bring the program into being and taught and inspired the students in the same way that was and is an example to us all.

Martin Berzins