Good morning everyone.
My name is Hanan Lutfiyya. I am a faculty member and Chair of the Department of Computer Science at Western. I am deeply honoured to have this opportunity to share my thoughts about Sheng. I know that I speak for all faculty, staff and students in Computer Science that Sheng will be missed and that Sheng will always be in our hearts. For Lizhen and Sheng’s family from China please know that we mourn with you and please accept our condolences.
Sheng received his PhD from Waterloo in 1986. He came to Western in 1989 after a brief stint at Kent State University. He was a huge “catch” for the Department of Computer Science and helped establish the Department as the premier department in Canada for theoretical Computer Science. Over the years we have seen top conferences and researchers in theoretical computer science at Western, which has enhanced our international reputation.
Sheng was not just a “theoretical” computer scientist. He had knowledge of other areas including computer architecture, parallel programming and object-oriented programming and has taught courses and carried out research in each of these areas.
I came to Western in 1992. I first met Sheng at the time of my interview. I had dinner with him and others. The lively and friendly atmosphere was a factor in my coming to Western. Sheng’s presence at Western eased my transition from being a PhD student to a professor. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that he only ever had kind words and was always full of encouragement.
Over the years we co-taught a course on parallel computing and we served on many committees together. Working with Sheng was always a pleasant experience.
Over the years we had various back-and-forth discussions on a range of topics including computer science, politics and religion. However for sports, I would listen while he would rant about the Maple Leafs or the Blue Jays or the Raptors.
As I think about my personal experiences with Sheng I think about what many of you will remember when we think of Sheng. We will remember the care and kindness he had for faculty, students and staff. He showed this in so many ways. Staff members will always appreciate the care he took in selecting the lovely cards he brought for Christmas, and that he was always considerate of their workloads and schedules. For example, he never showed up at 4:28 PM on a Friday making a last minute request.
He always had a smile and time for a chat with students. In his many chats with students he gave valuable advice about their studies, loaned books and had engaging discussions on various topics.
Many of us know that Sheng liked working at night after dinner but he seemed to always be there in the morning. Not too long ago, a faculty member was writing his NSERC grant. He spent several days where he would be the first person here and the last person to leave. Sheng usually was that person. Sheng observed that the faculty member’s car was always in the parking lot. He knocked on the door to make sure that his colleague was ok. The colleague was ok just tired from working on NSERC. Sheng would look in after another colleague who taught in the evening. Sheng would drive home faculty members who stayed late at the grad club. By the way, Sheng was not in the grad club drinking; he was working.
Many of his chats with students took place in the evening hours. This was not limited to Computer Science students but also included Math and Applied Math students. I think for many students they found great comfort in this. He always had time for people regardless of the time of day.
The other thing that we will always remember about Sheng is his passion. We have heard today of his passion for research and sports. One thing that stands out for some is how he always looked for good in people. For example, on the Annual Performance Evaluation (APE) he went out of his way to make sure people in the department were properly recognized and did not back down until he felt there was proper recognition.
He also had strong passion for learning about the diversity of cultures and religions represented by our department.
Sheng leaves a strong academic legacy through his research, service and teaching. For many of our graduates finite state machines will always be associated with Sheng. Today I see many students including former graduate students who I know traveled great distances to be here. No one will forget the impact he had.
Know this: In his last days Sheng did what he loved best. He worked on proofs for a paper, he played tennis and ping-pong and he had a preliminary Chinese New Year Dinner. I hope (as I did) that you find this comforting.
As I wrote this eulogy I was reminded of a poem:
Not, How Did He Die, But How Did He Live
Not how did he die, but how did he live?
Not what did he gain, but what did he give?
These are the units to measure the worth
of a man as a man, regardless of birth.
Not, what was his church, nor what was his creed?
But had he befriended those really in need?
Was he ever ready, with word of good cheer,
to bring back a smile, to banish a tear?
Not what did the sketch in the newspaper say,
but how many were sorry when he passed away.
I am going to miss Sheng tremendously. May his soul rest in peace.