Lamentation & Loss

The rolling hills of Northern California are preternaturally green today. With wild abandon the camellias rush to bloom. But the siren song of spring, urging the grasses to grow and the tulip magnolias to flower deep in the midst of winter, belies the veil of sorrow that shrouds the highways and byways of the intellectual and entrepreneurial community here.

At this writing, it has been 7 days since U.C. Berkeley's Richard Newton slipped away. A great man has died and a light has gone from the world. It is a time of lamentation and loss. A time of inconsolable sorrow.

I talked to U.C. Berkeley Professor Kurt Keutzer today. He was a great friend of Richard Newton's. Dr. Keutzer told me that “Richard was that rare friend that one is blessed with only once or twice in lifetime. He was someone with whom you could discuss a new start-up idea, quote Shakespeare, discuss the future of electronic-design automation, take a serious hike in the woods, debate whether the Internet would be good for the third world, or just sit and meditate. He was among just a few friends that I looked forward to growing old with."

He added, "And Richard was in his prime. He was becoming more inspired with each passing year. He had a vision that challenged the world, and he had the personality to communicate that vision. Richard had been evolving in this regard over the last 20 years, with each year being better than the last. In fact, in these last few years, all of my conversations with him involved his talking about what is good for the planet, for humankind, for the world. That's a very unique perspective for an engineer, and particularly for someone who was at Richard's level of influence as the Dean of the School of Engineering at a major university like Berkeley. That is what I will miss, and our entire community will miss intensely."

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Emeritus Professor Ernest Kuh
was Dean of the School of Engineering at U.C. Berkeley in the 1970's and, like Dr. Newton, received the Phil Kaufman Award for significant contributions to EDA. I spoke with Dr. Kuh yesterday about Richard Newton and EDA. He said, "I met Richard 30 years ago when he arrived as a graduate student to study under Don Pederson. We have been very close ever since. Richard was a towering figure in EDA, in the university, and in society."

"There is no doubt that Richard did outstanding work in circuit simulation, and later in timing analysis and software development. However, I believe his most important contribution to EDA was to help start many companies – more than a half dozen, including Cadence and Synopsys. In that sense, he essentially identified the companies that became the giants in the industry. It was a great contribution. But Richard made other contributions which were even broader and will have an even bigger impact over time."

"Richard was absolutely one of the very best deans across the country, and he had this very unusual ability. He could work with anybody. He encouraged people in their work – faculty, students, and colleagues. He excelled at fund raising, alumni relations, and building the campus. After he became dean, five and a half years ago, he began to change his technical interests. He developed so many different things, not just new areas of study. He founded the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society at Berkeley, CITRIS, which is one of the four major research centers in the U.C. System today. It is a multi-disciplinary center which looks at energy, health, and transportation, as well as the needs of the poorer countries."

"With CITRIS underway, he also became very interested in synthetic biology and talked about doing something to develop ideas in that area. He also made a huge impact internationally. He developed ties between the University of California and China, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, and so forth."

Dr. Kuh added, "And Richard Newton was a wonderful person. At his memorial service last Saturday in Zellerbach Hall on campus, many people spoke. The Governor sent a letter, Richard's two daughters sang beautifully, and his wife spoke eloquently. Zellerbach Hall was filled. It was an amazing turnout. Everyone spoke about Richard's vision, his entrepreneurship, and his abilities. How he encouraged people to think and accomplish things. Certainly, Richard was an outstanding dean and made an impact in engineering, but it is his impact on society as a whole, his vision of a progressive, inclusive future for humanity that will be his greatest legacy."

"Richard Newton was a brilliant person. But more importantly, he was absolutely charming. We have all suffered a terrible loss."

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Kurt Keutzer said today, "Richard really does leave a legacy. For one thing, he has a legacy of graduate students who have gone on to accomplish great things. Srinivas Devadas, for instance, was one of Richard's students and is now Associate Head of EECS at MIT. Res Saleh, founder of Simplex, was also one of Richard's students. Richard's legacy of graduate students alone would have been enough for an ordinary mortal professor, but he had many achievements in other areas, as well."

"Richard was the first director of the Gigascale Systems Research Center at Berkeley, one of the largest funded research centers on campus. If he hadn't outdone that achievement with the CITRIS center, the Gigascale Center alone would have been a crowning achievement for any mortal professor."

"Also, Richard worked with Professor Eric Brewer, Tom Kalil, and others to establish their Peace Corps-like project that is helping to bring technology to the third world. This is more than just a theoretical problem presented to students in a course. The group has raised the funds and sent students out to actually do the work. Again, enough for any mortal professor, but not for Richard."

"He has had a long-standing interest in synthetic biology, and it was literally his dying wish that a Berkeley Institute of Synthetic Biology be established. For most people who went through the suffering that he endured over this past several months with his pancreatic cancer, the wish would been to get people behind cancer research. But not for Richard. He just kept re-emphasizing the importance of synthetic biology, and at this point there's no doubt that's going to happen. There's a ground swell of support for such an institute, with Paul Gray and others spearheading the effort on the Berkeley campus."

"All of this was part of Richard bringing altruism forward as a perfectly legitimate enterprise. To have someone of Richard's intelligence and stature pushing an altruistic agenda forward, that was an amazing thing about his life – particularly in these last few years. At a time when concerns about money and personal gain appear to be at the forefront of students' minds, he made it seem perfectly natural, as a matter of course within engineering, to be concerned about the rest of the people on the planet. A memorial to Richard doesn’t require hyperbole, but honestly, when I think ‘Who else could do that?’ the only name that comes to mind is John F. Kennedy. Many of us thought that Richard would expand his sphere of influence into politics in the years to come."

"And," Dr. Keutzer added, "Richard reflected that same sense of commitment in his personal life. At the party for his 50th birthday, there were a series of toasts. It was striking to me that person after person said, 'If there was only one person I could turn to in a pinch, it would be Richard Newton.' The altruism that Richard felt for the planet was also demonstrated in his commitment to his friends. He was a person of unshakable personal loyalty."

"Of course, at times I used to rib him: Yeah, yeah – founder of Cadence and Synopsys. Sure."

"So one day, he actually brought in the original incorporation papers for Solomon Design Automation to show me that his name was there. As you know, Jim Solomon's company eventually merged with ECAD to become Cadence, so I stopped ribbing Richard about it. As far as Synopsys is concerned, you should really call Aart de Geus and get that story straight from him."

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I took Kurt Keutzer's suggestion and spoke with Synopsys CEO & Founder Aart de Geus
about Richard Newton and the beginnings of Synopsys. Dr. de Geus told me, "Rich Newton was at Berkeley at the time, working on a variety of EDA things primarily in simulation. He had built up an industrial relations program where various EDA people from industry would come to Berkeley and fund research. In addition, Rich and his mentor, Don Pederson, would go out and visit industrial locations."

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  • Thanks January 15, 2007
    Reviewed by 'Michael Williamson'
    Thanks for taking the time to help us all reflect on what really matters. I was a graduate student in EECS at Berkeley and got to see Richard Newton in action there, and later I joined Cadence, one of the companies he founded. And I observed with interest his dynamic style as he took on the role of engineering dean. But through your portrait of his life and impact, as inspiring as those are, you also help us to remember the personal loss to those who were his friends and loved ones. You remind us all that no matter what our achievements, great or small, our lives are fleeting, and those achievements must be put in perspective and left behind as we go to meet our maker.


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