A parting toast to College leaders who left their mark

Summer is a time of farewells, especially among University faculty. In addition to Joy and John Kasson, three other long-serving faculty members in the College retired at the end of the spring 2015 semester. They completed countless hours of service at Carolina and of scholarship in the fields of anthropology, astronomy and computer science. Here are snapshots of the impressive careers of these vibrant retirees.

Bruce Carney

Bruce Carney
Bruce Carney

Even when Bruce Carney’s feet were stuck in South Building, his heart longed for the stars.

Carney joined Carolina’s Department of Physics and Astronomy as an assistant professor in 1980 and became a full professor in 1989. He was named Samuel Baron Professor of Physics and Astronomy in 1994.

Carney and his fellow astronomers spent 18 years cooking up a high-tech telescope called SOAR. They set the $30 million, 100-ton telescope atop Cerro Pachon, a dusty, 9,000-foot desert mountain in the Chilean Andes, where since 2004 it has continued to capture the highest quality images of any observatory in its class in the world. Carney wore the same necktie, printed with Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” to both the groundbreaking of the project and its official dedication.

In 2008, a newly appointed chancellor, Holden Thorp, called Carney to South Building – first as interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, then as interim provost while a national search was conducted.

Carney performed so well that Thorp suspended the search and Carney stayed in the post until Thorp stepped down as chancellor in 2013. Afterward, Carney returned to what had always been his true calling: astronomy.

As provost, Carney presided over campus budget decisions during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. To keep perspective, Carney kept on his desk a coal-colored meteorite. “I keep it to remind myself that, here in this office, things will fall out of the sky.”

Fred Brooks

Fred Brooks
Fred Brooks

Born in Durham in 1931, Fred Brooks fell in love with computers at 13 reading about Harvard professor Howard Aiken in Time magazine.

Brooks would go on to earn his Ph.D. at Harvard under Aiken in the 1950s. In 1964, Brooks left IBM to come to Carolina to found what would end up being the second computer science department in the country.

Brooks got the job after giving a lecture in which he laid out how there were legitimate research problems that were different from the concerns of engineering schools or mathematics.

Brooks recalled that lecture earlier this year as the department celebrated its 50th anniversary. “It got the honchos here – the heads of the science department who were in the audience – to say, ‘You know, there might be something to that.’”

Brooks would go on to become one of the most influences honchos in Carolina history, serving as the chair of the department he founded for the next 20 years.

From day one, colleagues said, Brooks fostered a practically oriented, problem-solving department that attracted professors who were less interested in producing scholarly papers than they were in making products that people, including scientists in other departments, might find useful.

During his 50-year career, Brooks won the A.M. Turing Award, sometimes referred to as the Nobel Prize of computing, as well as the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Brooks and Apple founder Steve Jobs were among the inaugural winners of the latter prize.

“I tell high school students I picked the perfect career for the last half of the 20th century,” Brooks said in a 2014 interview.

Brooks pointed to the “intersection of biology and computation” as a career today’s students should be considering, “The intellectual explosion that is going to come in the next 50 years is going to be incredible,” Brooks said. “And I tell them I would be riding that rocket.”

James Peacock

James Peacock
James Peacock

James Peacock remembers a conversation he had with the late Julius Chambers, director of the Center for Civil Rights in the School of Law, who spoke of two kinds of scholars.

The first, Chambers told him, spend their entire careers doing nothing but scholarly research and getting it published. The second balance their scholarly endeavors with something else for which they have a purpose or passion. The legacy this second group leaves extends well beyond the library shelf.

Peacock’s long, distinguished record of scholarship and service at Carolina leaves little doubt into which category he would fall. The Kenan Professor of Anthropology arrived at Carolina in 1973; he went on to serve as the chair of the anthropology department from 1990 to 1991 and chair of the faculty from 1991 to 1994.

In 1995, while serving as president of the American Anthropological Association, Peacock gave a speech titled “Public or Perish” in which he talked about the vital contributions that can be made at the intersection where citizenship and scholarship meet.

“What I tried to say in that talk was to address issues of significance in society,” Peacock said. “Be relevant. That is so obvious, yet at that time for a lot of reasons there was a tendency to demean people, within my field and other academic fields, who tried to do that.”

On May 7, friends and family gathered in the James and Florence Peacock Atrium of the FedEx Global Education Center for a retirement celebration commemorating Peacock’s decades of commitment to Carolina.

Excerpted from the University Gazette