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College of Engineering and Computer Science mourns passing of Professor Emeritus John Oldfield

July 30, 2009

Tricia Hopkins
(315) 443-2546

John V. Oldfield, professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering in Syracuse University's L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science (LCS), died recently while visiting family in the United Kingdom. He was 76.

A native of Wigan, Lancashire, England, Oldfield received a bachelor's degree and a Ph.D. in engineering from the University of London and a diploma from Imperial College. He held several positions at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland from 1960-74, including lecturer, senior lecturer and director of the Computer-Aided Design Project. He was a visiting assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1965-66 and a professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at University College Swansea, University of Wales, from 1974-78.

Oldfield joined LCS's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in 1978. He was well known as a leader in the area of very-large-scale integrated (VLSI) circuits, and served as a consultant in VLSI design to General Electric in Syracuse in 1980, during a leave of absence from the University. Among Oldfield's other specializations were power system analysis and transformer design, computer programming, introductory electronics, and computer-aided design methods and tools.

Shiu-Kai Chin, professor of electrical and computer engineering, was a student of Oldfield's who later became a colleague in LCS. Chin says Oldfield was always on the leading edge of technology and built the college's VLSI curriculum from the ground up, into an area of study that distinguished the college and continues to today. Oldfield, he says, championed the integration of the latest computer-aided design tools into the college's programs. "John's genius at work left a lasting impact on the college," says Chin. "He saw the new technology and rapidly concluded that it would be a game-changer that would make the college's academic programs stand above the rest." Oldfield also played an important role in establishing SU's CASE Center.

Outside of the University, Oldfield was actively involved with the South East University Neighborhood Association (SEUNA), serving as a board member for more than two decades, and within the peace movement in Central New York.

"John Oldfield was a man who knew how to search for the truth, and one could always believe him when he said he found it," says John Brule, professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering. "Even administrators that he drove to distraction had to admit that he was always right."

Brule says that Oldfield was passionate about both the college and the community, and should be remembered as a person who fought hard for enhancements in the college that would create the best learning environment for its students. He also should be remembered as a pioneer in bringing the college out into the community.

"He led the way in the electrical engineering department at Syracuse University, convincing harried administrators that they should invest in programs and materials at the edge of engineering science," Brule says.

Oldfield was a fellow of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, a senior member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and a member of the Association for Computing Machinery. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Technology Alliance of Central New York in 2007.

Oldfield retired from the teaching in 1993 but remained active in research and community issues. In the mid-1990s, he was a vocal opponent against a high-powered transmitter for public radio station WAER, charging that the transmitter interfered with radio reception in the University's surrounding neighborhoods.

Chin says that in everything Oldfield did, from his academic work to his community activism, he was never in it for self-interest. "I never, ever suspected his motives," says Chin. "He believed in collegiality, and there was almost no daylight between his actions and his beliefs. He did things for the common good and with the ultimate goal of helping others."

Community member Doug Igelsrud worked with Oldfield on broadcast media issues in the community for the past several years. Igelsrud utilizes the local public access television channel in his work within the Syracuse Peace Council, and he was dismayed when the channel was moved without much public awareness. Igelsrud and Oldfield were among the co-founders of the Broadcast Media Review Group of Central New York, a public advocacy group working to bring attention to the situation.

Igelsrud says that Oldfield combined his interest in the peace movement, interest in broadcast movement, and expertise and knowledge in engineering to the effort. "John put a lot of energy, research and outreach effort into the cause," he says. "He was always out talking to people and building momentum and awareness."

Oldfield is survived by his wife, Julienne, and four children-Edwin, Bronya, Sophie and Geoffrey. A memorial service was held July 14 in England.

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