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In Memoriam: Jesse Poore

Jesse PooreJesse H. Poore, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, former co-director of the UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Computational Sciences (JICS) and director of the UT-ORNL Science Alliance, died on April 25 at his home.

Poore came to UT in 1986. He served as co-director of JICS from 2000 to 2005; director of the Science Alliance from 2000 to 2011; and UT System vice president for information technology and chief information officer from 2008 to 2009. He taught computer science and software engineering courses for more than twenty-five years and was appointed to the Ericsson-Harlan D. Mills Chair in Software Engineering in 1998.

Poore’s research program at UT focused on the economical production of high-quality software. He supervised twenty-six graduate students’ research, and he said their graduation and career success were his greatest source of fulfillment. In 2002, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society recognized Poore’s work with its highest award in software engineering, the Harlan D. Mills Award, for significant contributions to function-based software development and statistical software testing.

Prior to coming to UT, Poore was director of the Computing Center and associate professor of mathematics at Florida State University and held various leadership positions at the Georgia Institute of Technology. While on sabbatical from UT, Poore was a guest senior scientist at the Fraunhofer Institute for experimental software engineering in Kaiserslautern, Germany, in 2006.

Poore received the Faculty Public Service Award from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1999. His other public service work included being a program manager for the National Science Foundation from 1974 to 1975; a member of the President’s Federal Data Processing Study to assess scientific computing needs at all national laboratories in 1978; and executive director of the Committee on Science and Technology in the US House of Representatives in Washington, DC, in 1983. He was vice president for networking at the Southeastern Universities Research Association from 1984 to 1989; a member of a National Research Council panel on statistical methods in software engineering for defense systems from 2002 to 2003; and a member of the 2010 Census Program for Evaluations and Experiments with the National Academy of Sciences.

Poore co-founded Software Engineering Technology Inc., a company that performed research, training, and technology transfer for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and with other agencies of the US Department of Defense, as well as numerous private companies. The company was acquired by Ericsson in 1998.

He earned a doctorate in information and computer science from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1970.

Poore is survived by his mother, Terresita Poore, of Campbellsville, Kentucky; daughter Pamela Poore Brannon and son-in-law Joe Brannon of Tallahassee, Florida.; son David Poore and partner Eva Vermeulen of Amsterdam, Netherlands; grandchildren Lauren Breza of Knoxville; Maggie Breza and David Breza of Tallahassee; brother Dennis Poore and sister-in-law Debbie Poore of Sarasota, Florida; and sister Judy Poore of Campbellsville, Kentucky.

Quotes from friends, colleagues, and former students of Dr. Jesse H. Poore

Jason M. Carter

Poore’s last PhD student

Jesse respected dedication and hard work. That is probably why I didn’t get to know him as well as I would have liked. It is also why we worked well together. While working with Jesse, I developed an appreciation for the theory behind the science. This is sometimes a hard thing to sell in some computer science circles; however, it is the correct approach and it is what Jesse practiced.

He was a private person, but he loved to sit and talk about a broad range of topics; and, he knew a lot about a lot of things. It was never all about computer science. Jesse enjoyed small gatherings where ideas flowed freely and the environment was comfortable. My wife and I really enjoyed the receptions he held from time to time at his home. He was comfortable in the kitchen and I remember him wandering around talking with his guests in his socks — we were all probably in socks.

Jesse was a leader — that is obvious. I see his leadership more in how he related to and supported people; how he listened to their ideas and integrated that into his decision making. He was kind; he made time to talk with you if you came by to discuss something; he was respectful of everyone. He also made things happened.

Although Jesse would probably think it a little thing, he always was available to help my wife while I was deployed for a year after graduation. That meant the world to her and I am grateful to him for that support.

Jesse respected the position of professor; he looked the part. I will always remember the bow tie and his sharp wardrobe. In a world where casual is the norm, Jesse made looking good cool looking.

I am most grateful that Jesse Poore gave me a chance; he provided an opportunity when I was making a huge life direction change; he was instrumental in getting me back into the field of computer science, a field I love. I credit and will remember him for doing that.

Bruce MacLennan

Colleague and former student

I first met Jesse Poore in 1971 when I was an undergraduate at Florida State University; he had just joined the math faculty and become Director of the Computer Center. FSU did not have a computer science department at that time, but a few computer science courses at the senior or graduate level were taught in the math department. Jesse taught several seminar-style courses on CS theory (inspired, I think, by the strong theoretical orientation of GaTech), for example, in algebraic automata theory. I took all of his courses, which gave me several valuable skills.

First, all his courses were built on the research literature (no predigested material from textbooks), so we had to learn to cope with that. In a typical class, one or two students would be expected to present a theoretical topic that they had studied in depth for a couple weeks. (I remember that I had to do Tarski’s cylindric algebras and Halmos’ polyadic algebras.) Presenting your topic was something like an oral exam. Jesse might stop you at any point and say, “I don’t believe that, why don’t you prove it?” So you would have to come up with a proof on the spot. Or he might say, “Do you think that result could be generalized?” If you said Yes, he would say, “Go ahead and show us,” and expect a proof of the more general result. If you said No, then he would expect you to exhibit a counter example. So we got very good at reading critically, exploring proofs to understand every detail, and anticipating his open-ended questions by thinking beyond the published results. On the other hand, he didn’t worry too much about grades. I remember that at the end of one quarter he said, “I haven’t thought about grades, so unless you object I will just give you the same grade I gave you last quarter.”

At some point Jesse began to ask me from time to time to cover his class, which was a very valuable experience for me. So on a Wednesday or Thursday he might say, “I am going to be out of town Friday and I would like you to teach my class. Here is what I was going to cover.” And he would hand me a couple of research papers or a book with a bookmark. Then I would have a day or two to learn the subject well enough to be able to present it and answer questions about it. In this way he taught me to quickly dive into a new subject and find my way in it, which has been a valuable skill throughout my career.

Thanks to Jesse, I applied to GaTech for grad school, but although I was accepted I decided to go to Purdue instead. I lost touch with Jesse over the years, although I ran into him at GaTech in 1984 at a software engineering conference, where I was presenting a paper. In 1986 Jesse contacted me, informing me that he was the new head of the computer science department at UTK. He told me about his plans to build the department and invited me out to see what he was doing. After my visit, I was so impressed with his plans that I decided to leave my tenured position and come here.

Tom Swain

Longtime colleague and friend

Many of us shared Jesse’s belief in and passion for theory-based methods as the path to quality software, as well as his frustration with the software industry’s failure to adopt those methods. My favorite quote is the first line of an article he wrote a few years ago: “There is a silver bullet. Bite the bullet!” (This one may only be appreciated by software engineering insiders, who know about Fred Brooks’ paper, “No Silver Bullet – Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering.”)

The next one is a good example of his generosity, diverse interests, and Kentucky heritage. For the past few years Jesse organized “SQRL Week,” where current and former students and collaborators from UT and the Fraunhofer institute in Germany got together to discuss research activities during the preceding year. In 2010, Jesse announced that Thursday would be dedicated to a “Statistics Field Trip”. This turned out to be a trip to Keeneland race track – Jesse’s treat. This was clearly not Jesse’s first visit to Keeneland. We had lunch at the track cafeteria where jockeys, trainers, etc. eat; and he provided an impromptu seminar on how to read the racing form. Surprisingly he did not have (or at least reveal) a mathematically sophisticated betting system. His advice to me: “Bet on the jockeys, not the horses.”

Christopher Reardon

Poore’s former PhD student

I wouldn’t be working on my PhD if not for Dr. Poore. I’ll never forget how he dropped in on me at work one day and said, “You shouldn’t be here – you should be getting your PhD!” His advice changed my career and my life. Thank you, Dr. Poore!

Shuang (Susan) Gao

Computer Science PhD student

I am an international student in EECS, in PhD program of Computer Science. My name is Shuang (Susan) Gao. What I wish to share is the my experience in the spring semester of 2010. At that time I took Dr. Poore’s class, cs525.

I was the only one international student in that class. Almost all of the assignments of that class are writing and presenting. It was my second semester in U.S., I was still not good at English writing and speaking. This class became a really difficult one for me….. I knew that my writing is much worse than other students whose native language is English, but I found Dr. Poore kept encourage me by spending time on my awkward writings. On every of my weekly paper writing, I always found many kind and helpful comments on margin of papers. Through these writings, I made a obvious progress. At the time when we were going to start final project of that class, I felt I am overwhelmed and I thought about giving up the hard one and return to pickup a simpler topic. When he got to know it, he spent time to talk with me, gave me great encourage and helpful advices on the project.

Dr. Poore let me know what a great supervisor is. I wish I could take this chance to show my deep respect for him.

Mike Langston


When Jesse Poore served as CS Department Head, he liked to hold big parties at his home. These were grand affairs, open to faculty, staff, students and their children. There was food, drink, games, and even a campfire. I remember that on one occasion Jesse stood out front, in costume, greeting each visitor as they arrived. He was all decked out in white coat, white shirt, white pants and black string tie. He was quick to point out that the general idea was to play the true Southern Gentleman. Anyone who told him he looked like Colonel Sanders was given a stern lecture.

Lan Lin

Poore’s former Ph.D. student and research assistant

Personally I think Dr. Poore is the best advisor, mentor, and boss you could ever work for. He always makes sure that graduation is a student’s first priority; is extremely supportive, encouraging, helpful, and generous as you go through this path.

He treats everyone that works for him with kindness and respect, and values his relationship with students. When I graduated, he paid to produce two hardbound copies of my dissertation, one for myself, the other with my signature for him. He keeps one signed copy for every student that did PhD with him.

At the time of my graduation, he was not able to attend my graduation ceremony, but years later when he knew that it had been my regret, he specifically arranged to hood me on the stage at another time.

He values theory and bases the software engineering research here on a solid mathematical foundation, which I think is perfectly right. He nurtures his students while giving them enough freedom to explore and to grow up intellectually.

My seven years working for him has been a very pleasant experience. There are many unforgettable and happy memories. He has influenced me in many profound ways. Even in his last days he still thought for me and did all he could to help me start my new career. The place he has in my heart and in my life is incomparable.

I owe my thanks to him. In my heart he forever has a very special place. I cherish our relationship, and cherish every moment we have spent together for the rest of my life.

Frank Ramke

Former student

I had the upmost respect and admiration for Dr. Poore. While acting head of the computer science department in the late 1980’s, he also taught a CS course or two. I was a student in one of them. In that class we covered the “black box” methodology of software design. Each and every time that I have designed a software module since that time, I remember that class.

Theresa Pepin

Consultant, Science Alliance

I knew Dr. Poore for 26 years, dating back to his first days at the University of Tennessee. I was a beginning professional in the early years so he was Doctor Poore to me for many years; later he told me a great deal about his time in Europe and I referred to him as Herr Doktor; only in the last few years have I finally been able to make myself call him Jesse.

There are countless stories and conversations I could relate from those many years. He remained in academe the entire time but there were many changes in his life and academic duties; I switched through teaching, research, corporations and self employment, multiple times. Since the shock of his passing I have gone over our conversations in my memory. What I think remarkable about my recollection is that I do, in fact, remember so much. Except for my family, I doubt I remember nearly as much from any other acquaintance as I do from speaking with Jesse. There was almost no small talk.

I have to say that there is no one I admire as much for persisting in the academy and for reaching out into the community–and giving true value back to both the entire time. I especially remember a conversation about passion. He couldn’t understand how I could live on almost nothing while volunteering huge amounts of time and effort to causes I believed in and I couldn’t understand why he did not retire earlier and leave behind the many obdurate problems of academic and political bureaucracies. His work ethic and his dedication to the institutional environments that had sustained his professional life were exceptional.

He was certainly a private person, but I also know he was very proud of the large part he played in the lives and relationships of many people–his mentor, Harlan Mills; his students, his colleagues and his staff. Most recently, he sponsored a comprehensive online collection of Dr. Mills’s publications that has attracted substantial world wide attention and made that intellectual content much more accessible.

Jesse was a genuine advocate in both the academy and the community for opportunities he thought should be pursued. At the same time, he was a shrewd judge of capacity and the political realities on the ground; he expected a great deal from the people and groups he supported and he did not suffer fools at all. In accomplishing his work, he was focused and thoughtful; he could also be, as his editor Laura Buenning terms it, irascible when confronted by needless or mindless obstacles. Now, being buttoned-down–in meticulous attire and bow-tie– and irascible is actually quite a trick, but it was uniquely Jesse’s style to be so.

Dr. Poore, Herr Doktor, Jesse–I think there is no greater good than to be a good person while accomplishing a great deal. In my book this is the highest compliment I can give to anyone. Jesse was not a simple man–and the problems he attempted to solve were certainly not simple–but he was, simply, a good man. I am proud and grateful to have known this good man in a small slice of his life.

Carmen Trammell

Longtime colleague and friend

Jesse was my teacher in grad school, my thesis advisor, the person who launched my career, a mentor, a longtime colleague, an advocate, and a loyal friend who would help me anytime, with anything. I met him when he came to UT in the late 80s, and we had 25 years of adventures.

He believed in me more than I believed in myself. He thought I could do anything. Sometimes I didn’t have the slightest idea how to approach the projects he asked me to take on, but he had complete faith that I would figure it out and do something great. He trusted me with all kinds of high-profile jobs, and as a consequence, my professional growth curve was practically vertical.

Jesse was one of the most hard-working people I’ve ever known. His work-related emails were sent day and night, weekday and weekend, on holidays or anytime. You really had to draw the line with him or you’d end up working just as hard as he did! His hard work has resulted in a legacy of tremendous accomplishment, both personally and through the work of the many students he developed into productive professionals.

Jesse was bold. He took risks. He didn’t really regard his bold initiatives as risky, though. He just set his sights high, and went for it. He worked at the level of tide-turning strategy, and more often than not, he succeeded. He thought perfection was possible, and he thought we should all strive for it. He didn’t have much time or patience for people who were not going to do something important and strive for excellence. You would never find Jesse Poore watching a mindless TV show or window-shopping in a mall. He believed in spending his time on things that mattered.

In Jesse’s later years, he began to pursue some new interests. Personal fitness, art, reading for pleasure, nutrition – he began to relax a little, and make new friends. I was so happy about that. I tried to interest him in my passion for animals, but that wasn’t his thing. He had enjoyed his dogs in the past, but he didn’t want the everyday responsibility anymore. I admired him for taking that responsibility seriously. Too many people think you can just leave a dog in the back yard.

Jesse was truly a good person. He was not critical. He did not seek revenge. He did not harbor negative thoughts and feelings about people. He respected individual differences. He respected other people’s choices and didn’t feel that he had the right to impose his own views on others. As time went by, our interests diverged somewhat, and I wasn’t as willing to spend my time on technical work. He completely accepted my choice, and never acted disappointed.

If I had to pick one quality about Jesse that, to me, describes him best, it was his generosity. He was generous with credit, with opportunity, with trust, with respect, with time, with money, with things, and with friendship. Jesse did not view life as a “zero sum game.” He did not make things about “us vs. them.” He thought there was plenty for everyone. All you had to do was earn it. And he would help you.

I will miss him every day. But I will also try to go forward with all I learned from him. I hope he is “up there” or “out there” somewhere, watching all of us who loved him try to live up to the inspiring example he was. I am very, very grateful to have known him.

Michael Campfield

Former student

I remember fondly the day that I, unscheduled, came into his office, bow tie in hand and said “Can you show me how to tie one of these?” Without hesitation he stopped working and took the time to show me the way to tie one perfectly.