Gerald J. Popek, an Internet pioneer and a world-class technology leader who played a key role in software development and networking, passed away on July 20 at his home in Bel Air after a courageous battle with stomach cancer. He was 61 years old.
Popek was a faculty member in the Department of Computer Science at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science throughout most of his professional career. He specialized in computer security, distributed Unix systems, file replication and mobile computing.
“He was a true pioneer, a wonderful colleague, a dedicated friend, and a great computer scientist,” said Leonard Kleinrock, distinguished professor of computer science and a longtime friend of Popek’s.
Popek’s many accomplishments included directing the Center for Experimental Research at UCLA and setting up one of the earliest Unix systems. And while serving on a National Defense Science Board, he helped redirect the government’s networking efforts, moving the military toward Internet technology.
At UCLA Engineering, Popek was a principal investigator and one of the key leaders in research for the Laboratory for Advanced Systems Research (LASR).
“Jerry had a quest for learning and a special interest in figuring out how things worked,” his wife Paulene said. “Computers completely captivated him when he was in graduate school at Harvard. They seemed to afford him a playground of interesting challenges and obstacles, and therefore a way to use his mind in creative ways.
“His ability to understand economics, technology, science, and social systems gave him a unique universal vision of the world and therefore the role computer science could play,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many times he told me how much he loved solving problems.”
Popek was also the founder and chairman of Locus Computing Corporation, and he held the position of Chief Technology Officer at CarsDirect.com and at Platinum Technology, Inc. Most recently, Popek was the Chief Technology Officer at United Online, where his responsibilities included the strategic direction, development and management of the company’s technology infrastructure, including oversight of the ISP service with over 4 million active users.
Popek received his BS in nuclear engineering from New York University in 1968. In 1970 he received his MS in applied mathematics from Harvard University, followed by a PhD in applied mathematics from Harvard in 1973. He joined the UCLA Computer Science Department as a faculty member that same year.
Popek is survived by his wife, Paulene and two children, Sarah and Darren.
His dedication to education and making things work will be missed by his colleagues, family, and friends, but the greater loss will be his warm, engaging, and supportive presence for those who knew him.
A memorial service will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday, September 21, at the UCLA Faculty Center, California Room. A reception will follow.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Gerald J. Popek Scholarship Fund at UCLA Engineering. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations for the memorial service or information about the scholarship fund. You may also contact Ms. Sukhie Bal at the Office of External Affairs at (310) 206-5707.