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Jerre Noe, University of Washington computer pioneer, dead at 82

Published Wednesday, November 16th, 2005

The Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) - Jerre D. Noe, a banking computerization pioneer who became the first chairman of the University of Washington Computer Science and Engineering, is dead at 82.

Noe, retired since 1989, died Saturday, six weeks after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer, the university announced on its Web site.

"He was temperamentally wonderful," Edward D. Lazowska, who headed the computer department in the 1990s, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "He's a person who takes no credit for himself and gives it to others."

A native of McCloud, Calif., Noe earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, worked on radar research in Europe during World War II and earned a doctorate at Stanford University.

He then joined the Stanford Research Institute and led a technical research project that developed a computer system using checks printed with magnetic ink for Bank of America in the 1950s so the checks could read by early computers, eliminating the need for clerks to handle each check individually.

Noe's team also developed the first machines to handle electronic fund transfers.

"They had to build all this stuff from scratch. They had to build their own computers," Lazowska said. "This really enabled personal checking and electronic banking as we know it today ... one of the legacies of this project are those illegible numbers at the bottom of your checks."

Noe was recruited to head what was initially called the Computer Science Group as a graduate program at Washington in 1968 and instituted an undergraduate program seven years later.

"The collegiality that he started was very important, not just among the faculty but between faculty and students and staff," Hellmut Golde, who followed Noe as chairman and retired in 1992, told The Seattle Times. "Sometimes you hear about fighting and backbiting in departments. We never had that."

Jerre and his Stanford research team were honored by the institute with the Weldon B. Gibson Achievement Award in 2001.

Survivors include Noe's second wife, Margarete Noe, daughter Sherrill Roberts of McMinnville, Ore., a cellist with the Portland Opera, sons Russell Noe of Seattle, who teaches mechanical engineering at Washington, and Jeff Noe of Denton, Texas, and five grandchildren. Memorial services were pending.

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