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Robert L. Ashenhurst, Former Communications Editor-in-Chief, Dies

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University of Chicago Professor Emeritus Robert L. Ashenhurst

Robert L. Ashenhurst, 1929 - 2009

Credit: The University of Chicago

Robert L. Ashenhurst, professor emeritus of applied mathematics at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business and a former editor-in-chief of Communications of the ACM, passed away October 21, 2009. He was 80 years old.

In 1998, ACM recognized Ashenhurst's 35 years of service with its prestigious Outstanding Contribution to ACM Award. Twenty-eight of those years were dedicated to steering the editorial direction of and maintaining the highest editorial standards for Communications. He served as the publication's Computer Systems Editor from 1963 - 1972; maintained the popular Forum column from 1973 - 1991; andleft his greatest footprint as the publication's fifth editor-in-chief, serving from April 1973 - January 1983.

Ashenhurst is remembered for his astute ability to discover and present the first work of some of the computing field's brightest stars. Indeed, the research of over a dozen future ACM A.M. Turing Award recipients was first published in Communications during Ashenhurst's tenure.

Of the eight editors-in-chief to spearhead Communications to date, Ashenhurst served the longest. In "The Battle Behind the Scenes," an essay in the 50th anniversary issue of Communications published in January 2008, Ashenhurst recalled some of the many challenges he faced as editor, often trying to find the editorial common thread between academics and practitioners to make each issue of the magazine valuable to both professions. He expressed particular satisfaction with what he called his Communications "swan song:" The 25th Anniversary issue published in January 1983. The edition reprinted 21 papers first published in Communications between 1960 and 1978 that have become landmarks in the annals of computer science, including E.W. Dijkstra's "Solution of a Problem in Concurrent Program Control," E.F. Codd's "A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks," and the seminal paper "A Method for Obtaining Digital Signature and Public-Key Cryptosystems" by R.L. Rivest, A. Shamir, and L. Adleman.

Ashenhurst also served for many years as a member of the ACM Council; he was its Parliamentarian for over two decades. He chaired ACM SIGCAS, ACM's Constitutions and Bylaws Committee, and ACM's Chicago chapter. He was an active member of ACM's Curriculum Committee on Education for Management and ACM's Awards Committee. He was named an ACM Fellow in 1995.

An editorial remembrance of Ashenhurst is planned for the January 2010 issue of Communications. It will detail his many contributions to ACM and Communications, and will include favorite recollections from ACM colleagues and former editors.



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