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Friday, 09 February 2007


Christine Kapteijn

I was sad to hear that Patrick died but happy that he did not suffer a long and debilitating illness. I met Patrick at the RCA where in the early 80s I undertook an MA in Cultural History supervised by Prof C Frayling. Right from the start Patrick and I enjoyed robust discussions, especially about religion (he professed to believe in a UCA: Unidentified Causal Agent), the incompatibility between art and science, art being aspirational, science focusing on the material world. I never forget Patrick getting so angry with me that he left me standing with my bike in one hand, while he stomped off across Exhibition Road.

Moments like these cemented our mutual affection, and Patrick was present at our wedding. Having lost touch due to family commitments and the daily pressures of survival, apart from exchanging the yearly Christmas card or e-mail, we met up again a few years ago, and resumed where we left off.

His last and recent gift to me was a visit to the Holbein exhibition followed by a brutally honest assesment of how I should go about getting to where I wanted to be. Thank you Patrick, all was much appreciated, rest in peace!

Sunil Rao

Patrick was, as he has been to generations, a great mentor and friend to me, and like everybody here, I must join the chorus of those who will miss him.

I got to know Patrick on joining the Imperial IIS lab in 2002, though I had first noticed his distinctive and presence around college earlier as an undergrad. Patrick was very quick to erase any image I might have carried over from those days of him as a stuffy and forbidding old prof.

His commitment to maintaining a collegiate spirit and atmosphere in the group always came across very strongly. Even those late-night sessions fixing knotty issues with his near-baroque vintage computer setup always ended in good long discussions about everything under the sun... from particular research problems to more general issues touching on any of his wide array of interests. He had his way of making us students feel he was genuinely interested in our work and how we presented it, going far beyond normal ordinary commiseration or encouragement or criticism when requested. I'll never forget his repeated insistence at each of our recent conversations that he simply had to see my draft thesis when I had something to show him.

Then there were the little touches, the witty conversation, his mischievous nature and eye for aesthetics.. it only struck me how carefully cultivated the ambience of messy (though never shabby) homeliness in his old office had been when he shifted to a shared room: Patrick had placed everything in that environment from the salvaged heavy old furniture to the soft lighting and quiet music to stimulate thought in comfort into the late hours as the sun set outside over the sweeping west London views. It was a great environment for any of us to be welcomed into, to have stimulating discussions in, and to be able to leave feeling privileged at having gained a little something in insight, encouragement and confidence, every time.

What a legend.

David Randell

I was very saddened to hear the news about Patrick, and all I can do is reiterate what many have already said here, that I will miss him very much.

He was quite an extraordinary man, a great conversationalist, astute and with a gentle but wicked sense of humor. Perhaps the best time to see Patrick in action was during lunch in Imperial's SCR where several of us would regularly meet and for a follow up coffee in E&EE's cafe on the ground floor. In particular I vividly remember his story about dealing with his bank and sense of outrage on finding out that he was paying more as a 'preferential' customer without being consulted on the matter. I must admit as the story and unfolded and responding to his feigned sense of outrage I laughed, but my timing could have been better. He paused and turned to me and said: "I'll let you know when to laugh!" He then tried to maintain a disapproving look, but it soon dissolved with a broad grin, before he returned to the story...

He was as I said a great conversationalist and had a quite extraordinary breadth of knowledge - even covering Gnosticism, as I was to find out. He embodied that rare quality one sometimes comes across of someone with a warm and compassionate heart and sharp intellect. He took a genuine interest in people, and had a gift of bringing out the best in them.

On my last day at Imperial College in November 2006, we said our farewells on the 10th floor in E&EE. My last abiding memory of him was that characteristic wobble in his walk as he returned to his office. He will, I know, be sorely missed by many. I felt privileged to have known him.

David & Dallas Herbert

For the sixteen years we have known Patrick Purcell, he was always kind, helpful and great company. He was the best friend and neighbour one could have had. He is sorely missed.

Stephanie Hogan

PAP we will miss you so very much.
Padraig was my Uncle, confident, mentor and ultimatly a best friend. Over the years and after the passing of my father, he asserted himself more profoundly in the lives of 'The Family' at his homeplace in Kilkenny.

What PAP meant to me? As this message is being written in the early days after his passing, I am finding it hard to express, and indeed order my thoughts at this early stage. I loved him dearly and though his passing was just as he would have had it, perhaps it is myself who is not ready to say goodbye, just yet.

Though PAP mentored me through my academic life, it was at home and as family where perhaps my insights are relevant. (Though there are some intersting stories to tell on that subject!)
Here goes:

-As we all know, he was adaptable, curious and very very bold. He had such a great sense of divilment and drew great fun from interacting with the youngest members of the family. They were all so tickled by his humour and interest in them as budding intellectuals.

-He was ridiciously independent and especially hated being made a fuss over. His sister, my mother Maire, is exactly the same..they're banter was the stuff of the finest comedy script!

-A robust conversationalist, PAP was an avid member of late night/early morning family 'discussions'(often miconstrued as arguments to outsiders!).

Topics traditionally varied from areas of exitentialism to the hidiousness of pergatory to 'what is culture'(a hot favourite)and on to the merits of brandy-flaming pudding (flambe), all of which may (and often were)discussed before lunchtime!

-He had a enormous sense of justice and instilled this over-arching sense of humanity into those he had influence upon.

-At home too he had an alergic reacion to vagueness which, often saw he and I in quite lively 'discussions'(there's that word again) on issues of his understanding or was it my definition of certain things!

Most remarkable pehaps was that he could almost always see my side of the arguement. He remained incredibly open minded throughout his life.

I feel altogether better having read through this memoriam and as a family we are gathering great comfort by reading and learning about other areas Padraig's life.

To PAP...Thank you for those words of support, kindness and white-lies which all helped me through my theses.
But most of all, you meant so very much to me, I miss you.

Leila Shepherd

Patrick had the humanity and the heart to spot a harrowed look on my face as I stood with him in a crowded lift one day back in 2004. We got talking and he understood that I was facing my first major challenge as a PhD student - writing that first journal paper. He volunteered to read my work, and despite it not being his field, gave me insightful feedback and guidance. He has been a huge encouragement to me ever since. I am only now realising just how much that has meant.

Patrick, thank you for your kindness, your unique charm, your conversation and your time.. and for your downright disgust when I considered "selling myself" to a law firm! What a singular pleasure it was to spend time in your company.

Amar Parvez

I met Patrick in September 2006 where he was the academic supervisor to our group for an MSc module in Suffolk.
Right from the off, I couldnt help but realise how quick, sharp and on the ball Patrick was. Our first submission was a project plan which Patrick proceeded to tear to shreds.
We didnt get disheartened but realised the high standards that Patrick expected from his students.
Our work on the module was tireless and mainly fueled out of fear of being 'Purcell'ised by Patrick.
We all received very good marks just days after Patrick passed away.
He made an impact on me for the short space time that I came in contact with him and understood the nature of academia and research methodologies. He will be missed by Team 2 of Future Opportunities.

Stephanie Pau

I met Patrick one late night when I was doing Summer Research (2002) with the IIS group at Imperial College, and yeah, he is always in till late!

Although I now work in a commercial sector that is different to the one he introduced, I have not forgotten about the wonderful world of social computing, the Media Lab and the like. He was very kind and generous with his time and advice (on projects and on life), and was more like my tutor in my undergraduate days. He had an appreciation for a wide range of subjects and was always interesting to talk to. I think my words cannot express enough gratitude for all that.

Thank you, Patrick.

Gillian Crampton Smith

Though I was at the Royal College of Art, it was well after Patrick had moved to Cambridge, so it was at the Media Lab that I first met him. He was always generous with his time when I visited and through him I learned much of the history of the Lab. When he returned to South Kensington we would meet up as he was always interested in the intersection of the arts and technology and continued to maintain a lively interest in what we were doing at the RCA. He was charming and fun, and, as others have attested, always kind and helpful, particularly to students. He will be sorely missed.

Toby Regner

I had the privilege to get to know Patrick while doing a postdoc at Imperial College from 2004 to 2006.

That wasn't a long time and - being an economist - our disciplines were pretty far apart .. Nevertheless, Patrick left a lasting impression on me with his genuine interest, amusing conversations and pure kindness, others have already aptly described.

I imagine he had a similarly positive impact on many other people lucky to be around him during his life.

Paulo E. Santos

My first impression of Patrick was of an odd old-fashioned guy wearing a bow tie. From this initial picture he grew out to be one of my best friends during my PhD at Imperial College (2001--2003) and the best man in my wedding.

I doubt I can ever forget the image of his captivating smile.

Rick Boardman

I got to know Patrick during my time working on my PhD in the Intelligent and Interactive Systems group at Imperial College, 1999-2004. During those long years of late nights on level 10, Patrick could always be counted on for a helping hand. Indeed, Patrick was renowned for inhabiting the labs late in the evening long after most faculty had departed. Patrick was always on hand for giving advice to PhD students in need. He had a knack as (other people have already commented) for seeing through weak argumentation, and I'll personally never forget the day he (constructively) tore apart my first draft of my PhD abstract. Wow, he was cutting ... and my thesis readers thank him for it.

Other things I remember Patrick for:
- Chatting up waitresses half a century years his junior, spark in his eye, whilst on group dinners in South Kensington. His junior colleagues greatly admired his gift of the gab.
- At the lowest point of my PhD, Patrick was one of those who encouraged me to submit a paper I wasn't happy with, but which consequentially got in to a prestigious conference.
- Having the most gloriously messy computer desktop and office. Messy desk, tidy mind.
- For occupying hours of my - and other student colleagues' - time diagnosing issues on his PC. Patrick insisted on relying upon an old Windows 95 PC and an even older Sun Sparc for doing his email and web browsing . It was the least we could do.
- Along with about 10 other PhD students, I was based in lab 1005, the old EEE cad lab, which was right opposite Patrick's office. Patrick regularly popped in to use the 1005 fridge and I swear he was the one responsible for leaving not quite empty milk cartons on the shelf next to the fridge. I never caught him though, so the mystery remains.

Patrick - you'll be sorely missed.

Kaveh Kamyab

Though I had limited interaction with Patrick academically, much like many of my fellow students and colleagues, I got to know him over countless meals and in as many social gatherings. Patrick stood out from the crowd in so many ways and always for the best of reasons. Such a genuinely warm hearted and kind person, he always had time for everyone. Yet this didn't detract from his academic success, if anything it enhanced it by bringing out the best in those around him. There was never a dull moment when Patrick was in the room. In seminars he always had the most pertinent questions to ask, over lunch he delighted us with his insights and anecdotes and at gatherings he would make use of his wit and light hearted good humour to become the soul of the party, no matter who else was present.

Reading through some of the other entries on this page I feel I could have written a lot of them myself. It's a wonderful achievement to have touched so many people in so many ways. For my part, I know that making his acquaintance has helped me become a better person. Thinking back, I now wish I could have given back as much as he gave me, but I know he never expected anything from us. He was a real gentleman.

I will remember him by his laughter and his generosity. He will be sorely missed.

Helen Morton and Igor Aleksander

What a tragic and awful loss! We have known Patrick for the best part of 30 years. It was always enjoyable and interesting to spend time with him. Those who have known him only recently may not have known what an authority he was on matters of ‘engineering design’ which he had practised both at the Royal College of Art in London and at MIT. Here at Imperial College he was the friend with the slight twinkle in his eye, always prepared to join one in looking beyond the pomposity that is sometimes endemic in universities. He truly appreciated what a university is about, and what intellectual discovery means. He was the person in a group to see something interesting, significant and entertaining in whatever was being discussed. He leaves a real void, particularly among the usual suspects of the erstwhile ‘intelligent and interactive systems’ crowd, and the 12.30 lunchtime crowd.

Mina Vasalou

I met Patrick Purcell at Imperial College when I first arrived in 2004. By 2007, Patrick’s friendship was so welcomed that is hard to imagine him being gone. He was a mentor and a friend together; a man who cared to know his students and offered all he could give: he was a participant for our experiments, a listener for our ideas, or a reader for our work. When running my experiments, he was the first to volunteer, although to his disappointment several (but not all!) times he was rejected due to a misfit with the targeted (18-23) age group. He appeared unexpectedly most of the time with big attentive eyes, to exchange a friendly word, others times to share a publication he thought was interesting. The last one I received was a book edited by himself, an important project he said brought together his years of research, completed in 2006.

I thank you Patrick for sharing this spirit of generosity, love for knowledge, virtue but mostly your humanity. Reading through these pages, I know you will be honoured and remembered.

Fernando Buarque

Before writing this brief piece, I took some time reading my predecessors at this weblog; great idea Sunny (Bains)! What I find striking is the consistency among the stories and impressions told about Prof. Purcell. It is as if you guys were speaking on my behalf.

I met Prof. Purcell during my PhD studies at Imperial College-London ’98-’02, there I encountered this full Professor who warmly welcomed any unconfident new student. He was always available to talk and give valuable advice (not only about computing).
I can clearly remember how keen he was on trying to understand foreign culture as well as how knowledgeable he was about his own. He helped me a lot to overcome some of my difficulties with English and English idiosyncrasies. Just before returning to Brazil my wife and I invited him to have Dinner with us – it was a joyful Evening. And to break a bit the sad tone of this text, I will share with you a comic passage (well for me was comic, to him was surely painful).

I was in the lab at Imperial one Morning, and because I am not a small person I could not see that Professor Purcell was standing just behind me, then I decided to backstep and accidentally landed on his sore toe. At that moment I learnt an impressive Irish guttural sound. Poor man! Of course he recomposed very quickly. As a gentleman he was, he turned to me trying to calm me down by saying that it was nothing; obviously every vowel that came out was stretched three-fold.

Against his will, yet this last formal opportunity I will refer to him as Prof. Purcell (he always insisted for me to drop his Professorial title). What I have not said to him (and I should have) is that I called him that way, not because of his position itself but because of his self, his attitude towards people & academia and his evident love for culture. Professor Purcell (& friends) I would like to offer my deepest respect to one the most distinguished and refined academic I ever met. Yes, he was a rare bred of scholar who dedicated himself entirely to academia; thus, an example to be followed.

A very great loss!

Yiannis Demiris

Patrick and I became friends when I moved in an office next to his at Imperial’s Electrical Engineering department as a young faculty member back in 2001. A regular in our lunch club, as well as our “Sushi Alliance” dinner group, Patrick was frequently the soul of the party, with his wit, verbal elegance, and especially his wonderful heart. In the 6 years I have known him as colleague, neighbor and friend, the thing I will remember the most is his extraordinary ability in bringing out the good in everyone. Whether you were describing your latest technological achievement, or the movie you saw last night, Patrick was an attentive, probing listener, eager to discover your inner world, and to challenge your pre- and misconceptions, to find out what you were really made of.

Patrick's quest for scholarship could only be matched by his desire for superb communication, and those who knew him, whether grad students, faculty or friends, benefited from it. I remember one of those days during my first year as faculty at Imperial; those of you that have been to London know the setup: grey, drizzling day, the trains are late, and you arrive at the office only to discover that your latest grant proposal has been rejected with none of the feedback indicating that there is something wrong with it technically. The noise of banging my head to the wall attracts an always smiling Patrick from next door to say hi, and show immediate genuine concern. He offers to read over my application and finds time in his busy schedule to do so. His first words of feedback: “Yianni, who do you think reads these (Royal Society in this case) proposals? ‘Old bastards’ like me who do not have your attention span! They want to see vision, scholarship, passion, and they want to see it from the first sentence damn it, not buried in your techno mambo-jumbo somewhere in the second page. Now, what do you *really* want to do?”. He worked with me to provide much needed “umf” to the proposal – needless to say, I got the grant in the next iteration, with only Patrick to thank. If you have worked with Patrick, you are bound to have a story like that.

I will also remember the fun we had teasing him (for years!) on his lack of English-ness, after he admitted jumping the taxi queue by waving a 50-euro banknote to the only taxi driver in the Girona airport, trying to get to my wedding on time, after his flight was late; he was truly embarrassed about his (probably only one ever!) breach of etiquette! We will also remember his hilarious attempts of “lessons in demureness” for Sunny, his amusing collection of one liners to those interrupting him (“Excuse me, this is my story – can I say it? Excuse me, I have the floor”), as well as his allergic reactions to “wishy-washy” arguments.

Patrick occasionally delved in theological discussions with his friends over lunch - whatever the conclusion regarding the nature of the afterlife is, I am sure he is already busy shaking hands and being good friends with everyone. Patrick, we already miss you.

Glorianna Davenport

Patrick, I will miss you!

Our paths first crossed in 1983. I was working on a documentary film, a cinematic case study of urban development in New Orleans, and had a very ambitious plan. I wanted to make it the first piece of multimedia "courseware" available to students and researchers via Project Athena's nascent network at MIT. The system I envisioned required many things that had not been done before: building a huge database of shots, documents, and maps for on-line use across the network; building a user interface filled with useful tools, such as a browser and a word processor that would allow students to embed video clips within their own writings; and other then-radical innovations. But, I didn't know how to program a computer!

Patrick taught me some basics. I spent many hours at the Architecture Machine group, and he was infinitely patient and encouraging. Whenever I would make a mistake and bring the computer to a screeching halt, Patrick would soon be come over to observe what had happened and me to sort out the problem. Most importantly for me at that time, Patrick enjoyed and supported the art of filmmaking as well as of computer interface design and was always available to engage in a many-layered discussions about the project.

During the next few years, Patrick and I developed a strong rapport around ideas related to visual courseware. At some point, perhaps when we moved into the Media Lab building, Patrick took up residence in Muriel Cooper’s Visual Language Workshop. Over time various students moved back and forth between our various development projects and we enjoyed a rich professional collaboration under the same chaotic roof.

When Patrick moved back to London, I visited him quite regularly at Imperial College. One night I invited him to join dinner at my sister’s house and they too became good friends. From then on I would get regular updates about Patrick from my sister or her grandson Alexander, who later attended Imperial College.

From 1999-2004 I saw Patrick with more frequency as I took an active role in the formation of the Media Lab Europe in Dublin. Patrick joined us for discussions, openings, presentations and critiques whenever possible. As a regular visitor, Patrick contributed greatly to the formative stages of building a culture.

Patrick was a rare breed of academic who had thoroughly integrated his life with the academic institution. He was deeply loyal and committed, and always applied his dry humor, modest egotism and cautious can-do spirit to raise the tenor and practicality of intellectual expeditions. In addition to the practical surround of courses and projects, Patrick offered the human touch: he was the first to offer sympathy when my father passed away; at thanksgivings in America, he would gather the lonely foreign students and cook them a thanksgiving turkey.

Lauren Gallant

I will miss Patrick very much. I am honored that he considered my husband and I among his friends. I met Patrick in 1983/84 when I as the Admin.Asst. to the the Dept Head of Architeture, and Patrick came to MIT as a Visiting Professor from the Royal College of Art. My comments are about Patrick as a dear and kind friend and not about his professional work (about which I am totally unqualified to comment).

Patrick was charming and kind, especially to the admin staff, and I enjoyed all my early encounters with him - such a wonderful English/Irish accent, dry humor, and gorgeous manners. I moved to the Media Lab in 1984, just before the building was finished, and Patrick also moved to the Media Lab (as Visiting Faculty and Director of Communications and Sponsor Relations). We were all ducking under wires hanging from the ceiling and there was such a great energy around this great new undertaking. Patrick reveled in it. He worked so very hard. I remember bringing him cookies on Christmas Eve, when the rest of MIT had long gone home. During Patrick's seven years at MIT (that was as long as we could find visa status for him to work at MIT), we developed a friendship which has continued ever since.

Patrick left the Media Lab to accept an appointment at the Univ. of Ulster and we heard his stories of work and research in what was then a war zone. I was so relieved when he moved on to to Imperial College. My husband and I have visited Patrick whenever we are in London. He has been a gracious and welcoming host - with his dear friend Gillian, we enjoyed the theatre, lovely dinners, and especially long conversations after dinner. Patrick, while kind and charming, always challenged me to defend my opinions and provide data to support my ideas. Because of Patrick I've grown to think more clearly and carefully about my opinions and prejudices, and to be more precise in expressing my ideas. His precise language was a joy, and I blush to think of the times I've given him a good laugh with my imprecise English.

I last saw Patrick in May 2005. We had rented a 18th century house near Brick Lane, and Patrick insisted on coming to visit us, rather than the other way around, because he wanted to see the house and the neighborhood, and he gave us a great history lecture about Spitalfields, and the immigrant waves in the neighborhood. I know Patrick's great work is in technical fields about which I know little, but the depth and breath of his knowledge of so many things astonishes me.

Patrick was a great scholar, a remarkable man, and a wonderful friend. He gave so much to so many people, especially young scholars. He spoke so passionately about the value of scholarship and the need to foster it among young people. He occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of many.

Henry Lieberman

I worked with Patrick Purcell for many years, when he was faculty at MIT Media Lab. We worked at the Visible Language Workshop group, with graphic designer Muriel Cooper and Ron MacNeil. He was on my thesis committee when I got my graduate degree at the University of Paris. He was a dear friend and will be sorely missed. I'll always think of Patrick as the perfect English gentleman. with impeccable manners, distinguished and refined. Though the twinkle in his eye, which others have also commented on, gave away his Irish roots and let you know he was not as stuffy or reserved as his manner might have implied. I was always impressed by his boundless knowledge and commitment to the scientific enterprise. He contributed immensely to the early days of the MIT Media Lab, then again to Media Lab Europe. He was always stressing the importance of scholarship to students, situating your work with respect to what had been done before. But I also remember him looking up, exasperated, from the thesis of a student who had perhaps tried a little too hard to please him, "Why does every computer graphics thesis have to start with the Lascaux caves?!".

Barry Wellman

Many of us met Patrick at conferences, in my case ICS conferences at Oxford in 2003 and York this past September 2006. In addition, I -- and my Connected Lives -- colleagues benefited from his incisive and enthusiastic editing of our chapter for his recent 'Networked Neighbourhoods' book (Springer, whom Patrick was always pushing to do better marketing -- quite he was,too!)

Patrick was always inquisitive, charming, smart and original. At the end of the York conference, we trained down to London and spent the evening together. What a congenial partner, who's sunny side was marred only when the Goethe Institute restaurant (across from his Imperial College of Science) had not reserved his favourite table for us. His eyes sparkled and has cane flashed, because he dearly wanted me to have the best view for dinner. We had a jolly time. In his 80s, he was a lad in his 60s.

Patrick had a varied career. He was proud of his family's Irish revolutionary background, and made it clear to me that he had "never become English".

As a computer scientist, he was an enthusiastic convert to the social side of things, and especially to network analysis. I always felt minded encouragement from him. Not only was he a pleasure to work with editorially, he was a pleasure to be with as a person.

Chris Schmandt

I knew Patrick for many years at the old Arc Mac. Although his work was a bit tangential to mine, he was always one of the kindest folks around, and most supportive of the students. Back then, most anything that any of us did had never been done before, and Patrick did a series of projects around stored slide images on video disc.

He spent many hours at the Lab and was involved in all aspects of Lab life. I have a great memory of Patrick coming out to one of our softball games, swinging like he was playing cricket, getting a hit, and running to first base carrying the bat, which he refused to give up.

I kept in touch with Patrick for many years and always enjoyed seeing him in Ireland or England. He was a kind soul and a sympathetic listener, and that (and the cricket batting incident) is how I will remember him.

Libby Shaw

Back in the mid-1980's I was a young technician in materials science at MIT, and an amateur animator smitten with the expressive possibilities of computer graphics.

There was a course on introductory computer graphics listed in the MIT course catalog which sounded just dynamite, taught by one Patrick Purcell. I really wanted to take that course! But I had a mediocre academic background and nothing but flipbooks to show in the way of a portfolio. Heart in mouth, I went to visit this Prof. Purcell in his office to ask if I might take his course.

This kind, twinkle-eyed Irishman welcomed me warmly into his office and into his course, was supportive throughout the years of my computer graphics groupiehood, and remained a friend in the years since. I am so very sad to hear he is gone.

I'm still at MIT, running a small analytical facility. When a new face comes into my office uncertain and tentative but passionate about what might be accomplishable with the tools in my labs, I think of Patrick as I welcome them in.

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