Computer Science News

Paul Samet, 1930 - 2017

We are very saddened to report the death of Prof Paul Samet, a retired member of UCL Computer Science, and a gentleman of the old school, who passed away on 1st January 2017 aged 86. Paul's wife, Joan, predeceased him.

Paul's funeral will be held on Tuesday 7th February 2017, in the West Chapel at Breakspear Crematorium, Breakspear Road, Ruislip HA4 7SJ at 10.45am. Donations in memory of Paul are invited to "National Gallery Trust", and can be made by visiting

Head of Department Prof Steve Hailes has written the following obituary. Former and current staff and students are welcome to leave their own tributes and memories which will appear below. Please send them to Steve Marchant.

"Paul Samet was born in Vienna, and came to the UK with his parents as refugees from Nazi oppression, just prior to the outbreak of the second world war. Whilst re-training as a doctor in the UK, his father was called upon to treat Sigmund Freud in his final illness and he took Paul to the meeting, though, sadly, I believe that Paul wasn't able to recall the occasion.

"Paul discovered his metier in mathematics, a lifelong passion, and so studied pure maths at both Manchester and Christs College Cambridge, where he excelled. Via the civil service, Paul came into university computing and helped establish the central computing services in at least three of the UK's leading universities - Durham, Southampton and UCL. In the latter post he was given relatively free reign to build a team and create a computing facility that was second to none in the UK and is the forerunner of today's ISD. He joined Peter Kirstein and others in the early days of the UCL computer science department, building up our computer infrastructure and developing a particular passion for teaching.

"Paul retired in 1995, but there are several of us still in the department who had the opportunity to get to know him. Paul was rather unhurried in his approach to life, but was a man to whom lazy thinking was anathema. He was a stickler for detail, a real asset in the running of the computing services of the day, and also a major asset in exam boards since, not only did he know all the regulations, he could be relied upon the recall last year's conversations and decisions and so to ensure consistency. I still have, somewhere, the guide to punctuation he and I co-wrote for students.

"Paul was a kind, gentle and rather self-effacing man who was very encouraging to this particular (at the time) extremely junior lecturer, something for which I remain personally very grateful. But he should also be remembered as someone who was an important voice in the development of computing in the UK: he helped found our community, he became president of the BCS, and he maintained lifelong friendships with others who were instrumental in the development of our discipline and the tools that so many came to rely on in order to conduct their research.

"We owe Paul a considerable debt of gratitude." Prof Steve Hailes

"I recall Paul's very accurate memory in regard to exam boards and to the regulations, a lifesaver in the days when one couldn’t do an emergency online search of the Academic Manual. Also his being a stickler for grammar: I took over the role of Projects Organiser from him, including deploying his punctuation guide for students, in which he was the scourge of misusers of 'it’s.'" Dr Denise Gorse

"I joined the Department towards the end of 1995, and overlapped with Paul for some years. He  was very helpful to me in those early days, taking an interest in what I was doing, offering advice and so on. Later I took over his role of Chair of the Board of Examiners. It was a bit of a nightmare due to the huge number of 'exceptions', masses of missing data from different exam boards, complex regulations and so on. Paul helped very much with his enormous knowledge and his superb personal memory-based data base. It would have been impossible to get through the early years of this without him. I was very sad to hear of his loss. I think that he has been a tremendous benefit to the establishment of computer science as a teaching and research discipline in the UK." Prof Mel Slater

"I had opportunity to get to know Paul better in his later years with UCL, when he joined the Department of Computer Sciences and I was the Departmental Administrator. He was a  senior Professor, experienced in organisational management and knowledgeable about the world of computing. As a relatively new arrival to management, I remember Paul as someone who faced professional life with a pragmatic sense of humour (a quality I have tried hard to emulate). He was a gentleman who readily shared his wisdom, but was never in a hurry to voice criticism.  It was a privilege to know him." Maria Widdowson

"I first met Paul when I started at UCL back in 1987 and went on to know him quite well. In the early nineties Paul was teaching software engineering and running the second year group software engineering projects, and I joined him in teaching on B20A Software Engineering I and B20B Software Engineering II (the project module). Paul was a great mentor to have in learning how to deliver lectures, and also for learning about UCL regulations and how they worked. He knew a great deal about software development and programming from the earlier days, and had many stories to tell. I remember trying to convince him that object-oriented programming was the solution to everything but he knew that things were not so simple. When the department was still located in the Pearson building, Paul had one of the larger offices off the main ground floor corridor opposite the departmental office and Peter Kirstien’s office. I remember this well as the office was packed full of piles of paper, books and everything else that an academic collects. Some might say it was untidy but I’m sure that Paul knew where everything important was. There was a large and rather grand desk, that must have been around UCL for many years, with the desktop covered by paper to probably a foot deep all over, except for Paul’s work area that had a large sheet of ink blotter paper. I well remember the time when the desktop had to be cleared for some reason I forget, and Paul was delighted to rediscover that the desktop was actually covered with a fine decorated leather surface!”. Dr Graham Roberts

Posted 30 Jan 17 11:28