Dr. W. Dana Wasson
It is with heavy hearts that the family of Dr. W. Dana Wasson announces his passing on Thursday, September 6, 2018, at Shannex, Thomas Hall in Fredericton, NB.
Born in Jemseg, NB, he was the son of the late Walter Wetmore and Sara Myrtle (Clark) Wasson.
Dana is survived by his beloved wife Jane; children Barbara Wasson Lillehaug (Svein-Ivar) of Bergen, Norway and Bradley Wasson (Colette) of Fredericton, NB; grandchildren Bendik and Didrik Wasson Lillehaug and Marie-Claire and Jeremy Wasson; sister Reta Colpitts (Wayne) of Fredericton, NB: sister-in-law Roberta Wasson of Minto, NB, as well as several nieces and nephews. In addition to his parents, Dana was predeceased by his brothers Aubrey, Arnold, Waldo, Roland, and Avard.
Dana was born in 1934 and grew up on a farm, but clearly ran to the beat of a different drummer. He progressed through grade school as a keen learner and by the end of grade 11 was ready for university. Actually, he used to tease his grandchildren with that he never graduated from high school, but still managed to get his PhD. In 1951 Dana entered the electrical engineering program at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), which was the beginning of career filled with research, technological and business innovations, and unique insights into how information technology could shape our lives.
In the early 1950's computers were still mostly a dream of futurists, but Dana wanted to change all that, and started formulating a vision and plan that would be carried out over the next 50 years.
Early evidence that he was a gifted and brilliant scholar can be seen when for his senior project in his undergraduate electrical engineering degree, he teamed with classmate Bob Cass to build from scratch a new-fangled machine: a four function, refrigerator-sized, calculator made of vacuum tubes. This stimulated his deep interest in what would become the electronics industry and the field of computer science. The next step on the path was the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for his Master's degree.
There are few people who have the ability to anticipate and visualize the future, and to have enough clarity, foresight, understanding and determination to build it. Dana was one of these people. Although he could have stayed in the US and would have undoubtedly had an incredible private sector career, his passion was elsewhere.
His desire was to return to his cherished province of NB, and to work at UNB. It was a good decision for all of us! He met and married the love of his life, Jane Roxborough Dickson (in 1958), who became the rock of his world, supporting him and enabling him to devote much time and effort to his vision of the future. Dana and Jane’s partnership over 60 years fueled their enduring love for education, students, and the pursuit of greater knowledge. In his life-long commitment to the province and the university, Dana established both technological and educational bases for many generations of scholars and workers to prosper in the burgeoning field of computer science.
In the late 1950's, after having returned to UNB, Dana embarked on his life’s work. Dana envisioned a future where academia and business would greatly benefit from "computing", and society would prosper. That future included computing devices and networks driving the future of business and research and development. Dana pursued his vision with his characteristic zeal, and his love of discussing all things computing with everyone.
His vision had two main elements: building a computing facility, the likes of which had never been seen before, and building a workforce of computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and others to drive the computing industry forward. This parallel plan began to unfold in earnest in 1959 and played out over the next forty years.
As is required in any business context, finding funding and resources was problematic. Dana became a master of building logic and support for his plans, deftly securing funding from multiple sources, and aligning resources in the emerging value chain within and external to the university.
In 1959 Dana arranged for UNB and NB Power to co-finance the purchase of the university’s first programmable computer, the Royal-McBee LGP-30. In 1964 UNB’s Computing Centre was established with Dana as its first Director. UNB was soon to have the most powerful computer east of Montreal, when in 1968 the IBM 360/50G mainframe computer was purchased. Also that year, Dana established the first Department of Computer Science in Canada, offering the Master of Computer Science degree through Electrical Engineering. Just two years later, in 1970, Dana spearheaded the establishment of the first regional computer connected ‘network’ in the country, connecting a number of entities, years before the Internet became the connection conduit between people around the world.
In 1974 Dana became the first director of the School of Computer Science, and UNB conferred its first BSc (Computer Science) degree. Throughout the second half of the 1970’s and into the 1980’s the computer science program and the Computing Centre on campus grew at a remarkable rate, constantly expanding scope and computing power. In 1987 a computer science Ph.D. program was approved and offered by the university. In 1990 UNB established the first Faculty of Computer Science in Canada, and Dana became the country’s first Dean of Computer Science.
In addition to his focus as a "builder" at UNB, Dana also continued to research in areas such as pattern recognition and 3D computer vision applications. He also focused on computer assisted logic design and programmable logic devices. In 1968 Dana was awarded his Ph.D. from the University of Waterloo for his work on handwriting recognition.
Dana continually tweaked and updated his plan. He had a strong conviction, and had built evidence, that students and business could both benefit if connected as early as possible in the research/education/business application cycle, and in 1981 launched the computer science co-op program (to match students with employers), the first of its kind east of Waterloo. By the end of the 1990’s virtually every computer scientist coming out of New Brunswick had been taught, supervised, or hired by Dana. His versatility as both an administrator and technology thought leader was evidenced by his tireless passion and dedication to his vision for UNB and the province, through establishing the largest computing facility east of Montreal, all the while growing the reputation of the academic programs on all fronts. For many years Dana ran both the Computing Centre and computer science academic programs at the same time.
In addition to his academic prowess, he had many other talents and passions, including stubbornly wanting to fix every electronic or electric device and every mechanical machine with an ailment. Dana was an accomplished carpenter and provided engineering insights to Jane’s many artistic endeavours. He loved to follow the travails of his children and four grandchildren, and spent his leisure time reading non-fiction in a huge variety of subjects. He was also an avid UNB hockey fan!
Dana devoted time and effort to numerous committees, boards, and national organizations, was recognized with numerous awards, and earned recognition as a visionary for his foresight into the power and potential of computing technology, applying that power to engineering applications along with science and business applications. In 1990 when he was recognized as one of Canada’s computer science pioneers by IBM. He was also presented with the New Brunswick Information Technology Award at the Premier’s Forum on IT in 1997. Nearing retirement, in 2003 the university named the W. Dana Wasson Computing Centre in his honor. He was also bestowed the titles of Professor Emeritus in Computer Science and Dean Emeritus, the highest designations for retired faculty at UNB.
As a practitioner, academic, researcher, and administrator, Dana had a knack for envisioning the future and knowing what needed to be done to meet it. He loved all aspects of university life, especially nurturing and seeing the development of students. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of UNB’s sports teams, particularly the hockey VReds. Dana’s leadership, evidenced by his successful vision and plan, helped put UNB and the province on the computer science map, the impact of which is felt today by numerous individuals, businesses, and institutions that have benefitted from his visionary efforts. Dana’s contributions would not have been possible without the complementary devotion provided by Jane and her balancing love of nature, the arts and community. Their true partnership kept an even keel on a busy life devoted to building a better future for others.
The family would like to express its sincere gratitude to the wonderful staff at Thomas Hall, Shannex, for their constant care and attention to Dana and the other residents. Their professionalism and dedication to their clients is inspirational.
Visitation will be held at McAdam’s Funeral Home on Friday, October 5, 2018, from 6-9 PM. The family welcomes the public to celebrate Dana’s life and story in a memorial service that will take place in the McAdam’s J.A. Memorial Chapel on Saturday October 6, 2018, at 2:00 PM with Rev. Deborah Ambridge Fisher officiating. Donations in Dana’s memory can be made to the Dr. W. Dana Wasson Prize in Computer Science.