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RIP Sir Maurice Wilkes: first BCS president and computing pioneer

Sir Maurice Wilkes, a distinguished computer scientist, and the founding father and first president of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, passed away on 29 November 2010, aged 97.

Sir Maurice enjoyed a distinguished career and is widely acknowledged as an acclaimed computer scientist credited with several major developments in computing, including the world's first usable stored-program computer, the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC). It was switched on in May 1949 under the leadership of Sir Maurice who ran the EDSAC project at Cambridge University.

In 1951, Sir Maurice was responsible for the development of microprogramming as adaptable software to control a computer instead of less flexible fixed circuitry which became a standard approach across the industry. Many other important developments followed in the ensuing years, including his first paper on cache memories and a book on time-sharing.

Sir Maurice was a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. He was a Foreign Associate of both the US National Academy of Sciences and the US National Academy of Engineering.

Sir Maurice was awarded many accolades including the Turing Award (1967), the Faraday Medal from the Institution of Electrical Engineers in London (1981), the Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology (1992) and the IEEE Computer Society 60th Anniversary award for seminal contributions to the discipline of computing (2007). He was knighted in 2000.

Sir Maurice Wilkes was one of the Founder members of BCS which bought together all the UK groups interested in bridging the gap between computer engineering and the techniques of computer use.

In an interview to celebrate BCS's 50th anniversary in 2007, Sir Maurice said that he was most proud of the fact that BCS met a clear need and attracted people with a real commitment to developing the art and science of computing in this country and elsewhere.

David Clarke, chief executive of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, paid tribute to Sir Maurice: "Sir Maurice Wilkes was responsible for some of the most fundamental and important computer science and engineering contributions over the past century. I consider it a great honour to have known him and to be working at the Institute of which he was a founder member. He was a visionary; his contributions have been immense and long lasting. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him."

The BCS has created a page dedicated to Sir Maurice and his contribution to the society, if you have any recollections or memories of Sir Maurice to add to this page please email pressoffice@hq.bcs.org.uk.

This article was first published by the BCS.

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