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James Boyd Pearson Jr., 1930-2012


boydpearson02James Boyd Pearson, Jr., the J. S. Abercrombie Professor Emeritus in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at Rice University, and a pioneer in the field of multivariable control systems, died in Houston on Oct. 29 at age 82.

At the time of Pearson’s retirement in 1999, C. Sidney Burrus, the Maxfield Oshman Professor Emeritus of ECE, said of his longtime colleague and friend: “He was one of the people who created the modern ECE department at Rice.”

Pearson was born in McGehee, Ark., in 1930, and received his B.S. and master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Arkansas in 1958 and 1959, respectively. He earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Purdue University in 1962, joined the Rice faculty as an associate professor of electrical engineering in 1965, and served as department chair from 1974 to 1979.

In 1985, Pearson hired Behnaam Aazhang, now the chair and J.S. Abercrombie Professor of ECE, who said: “Boyd had an immediate impact on me. You knew he was a brilliant researcher, but at the end of the day it was the sort of man he was that impressed you the most. He had very high standards and he led by example.”

In 1979, Pearson was named a Life Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) honored for his “contributions to the theory of multivariable control systems.” In 1998, Pearson received the H.W. Bode Prize from the IEEE Control Systems Society for his contributions to development of linear control theory, from dynamic compensation to robust control.

Pearson received an Outstanding Recognition Award from the National Science Foundation for “pioneering contributions to research and education in multivariable and robust control systems under continuous NSF funding from 1973-1998.”

In 2001, a workshop in his honor, the “PearsonFest: New Directions in Dynamical Systems and Control,” sponsored by the Dynamical Systems Group, was held at Rice. Rich Baraniuk, the Victor E. Cameron Professor in ECE, said of Pearson:

“In many ways, the ECE department is ‘the department Boyd built.’ He was a great academic with a booming voice and a vision to match. He went out of his way to recruit and mentor the star faculty who put Rice ECE on the map. Boyd also made sure the department hired only good citizens and not prima donnas. The resulting team spirit persists to this day.”

Pearson is survived by six daughters and twelve grandchildren.