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Remembering Keith Halstead (1941-2003)

Originally published 26 February 2003

CommUnicate regrets to report the death of Keith Halstead, for many years Deputy Director and then Director of Computing Services, and latterly of the Department of Mathematics and the Institute for Employment Research, on 22 February 2003.

From Trevor Hawkes, Maths

I first met Keith in his capacity as Director of Computing Services. He was always obliging, however outlandish my requests. I particularly remember the advice and unstinting practical help he gave me with an experiment to assess by computer 170 students taking my Number Theory course. Because of network security at that time, over 100 machines had to be manually booted and logged on each Friday before the exam. Keith would appear at 8am to help me with this tedious task so that we would be ready for the first wave of examinees at 9. Such hands-on help was typical of Keith and well beyond the call of duty.

When Keith retired as CSV Director, he accepted a post in Mathematics to help the Department rewrite and develop the programming course for first-year science students. This was a major undertaking but he threw himself enthusiastically into the challenge and doubled the number of students enrolled on the course in his first year. He spent many hours giving laboratory tutorials, often late in the evening, encouraging students with a wide range of experience and ability. He made many other contributions to the Department, not least to his undergraduate tutorial students, whom he inspired to give of their very best.

It was my good fortune that Keith’s office was next to mine. We both shared an interest in IT for learning and assessment, and he gave freely of his expertise with programming, databases, and statistics to help make my schemes run more smoothly. Regularly chewing the fat at the end of a day’s work, I gradually learnt of Keith’s amazingly broad knowledge and range of interests, and came away from these enjoyable conversations feeling enriched and enthused.

Keith was a man of many parts. His father served in the RAF during the Second World War, and when he returned home in 1946, there were adjustments for the family to make. Keith forged a bond with his father through a shared interest in magic; he regularly played assistant in his father’s performances of sleight of hand and mind reading. Having young children to impress, I always savoured Keith’s stories of these magical feats, many of which had a mathematical slant.

Keith travelled widely, often powered only by his own two legs, for he represented the Coventry Godiva Athletics Club in county walking races for 27 years and earlier in his life had walked for the London Metropolitan and the Windsor & Eton Athletics Clubs -- he was close to national standard and was placed several times in the 53-mile London-Brighton race. He enjoyed many civilised things: particularly classical music, jazz, football, good food and wine, and above all the world of ideas and the achievements of the human mind. I valued his friendship and will miss him greatly.

From Peter Elias, IER

I first met Keith soon after my arrival here in 1975. The recently formed Manpower Services Commission had undertaken a large and complex survey of individuals’ work and training histories, but had no means of interrogating and analysing the resulting data. We needed computers and programmers to help with this task. At that time computers were mainframe monsters. Huge magnetic tapes had to be loaded onto tape readers. Statistical analysis packages for handling large complicated files were non-existent.

Keith and his colleagues in Computing Services were to organise the help we needed – work which they managed so effectively that the University’s reputation in this area of data analysis was launched.

This was the start of what was to be a long friendship. Despite the pressures of holding a senior university post, Keith always found time to engage in discussions with researchers and to follow the development of research methods. Within our research institute, data capture and coding were areas that were labour intensive and error prone.

Round about 1990 Keith and I met to discuss work we had been doing to develop a new occupational classification. While this seemed a good candidate for computerisation, the difficulties of the process appeared beyond the capabilities of the slow PCs then available. recall telling Keith that we would simply have to wait five years until computing speed and memory had increased sufficiently. One month later he appeared in my office with a diskette, having solved all these problems.

It was not just the IER he helped. Many people across the campus will at some time have made use of software that Keith developed. His data capture programmes still form the mainstay of software in the Data Preparation office. He wrote software for Data Envelopment Analysis – a technique used to help organisations to work efficiently.

Keith was a real pleasure to work with. He never appeared to have bad days, never tired of listening, was always sensitive to the needs of others and ready with sympathy when appropriate. As season ticket holders for Coventry City, Keith and I would spend time on Monday morning dissecting what was usually an unimpressive performance. The difference between us was that Keith always found some positive aspect of the match to counter my pessimism. But that’s Keith all over.

In the few weeks before he died, I was able to inform him that the ESRC had made a major award to facilitate further development of his coding software for general use by the social science community. In memory of Keith this work will continue.

From Rosemary Gilmore, IT Services

Keith Halstead’s career at Warwick spanned 27 years and his wide-ranging contributions across the University brought him many friends and touched on many lives. We have much to remember him by and to thank him for, and he will be greatly missed.

Keith came to Warwick in July 1975 to join the Computer Unit and in 1979 became Deputy Director and Programming Manager. In 1993, Keith became Director of Computing Services and in 1979 he became Acting Director of IT, in this role he played an important part in the creation of IT Services through the merger of Computing Services and MIS. Keith took early retirement 1998, but returned part-time to teach Java to Maths students and more recently as a Senior Research Fellow in IER. Sadly his retirement was all too short. Serious illness struck and although he fought through to a remission, the respite did not last and he died on 22 February 2003.

Keith was held in high regard by all who knew him – staff colleagues, students and those he met in his many other activities, which included race walking at national level. It is a measure of the esteem in which he was held that colleagues past and present came from far and wide to attend his funeral. A quiet and perceptive person he always saw the good in people and the positive side of any experience - even the battle with his final illness which he said he valued for the new perspective it gave him.

Keith was a thoroughly good man, full of humanity, with a sharp mind and a wry sense of humour. Colleagues will know him in many different ways, but we all feel the loss, will miss him greatly, and extend our sympathy to his wife and family.

From Andrea Walters, IT Services

Keith began working at Warwick in 1975 in Computer Services, leaving the department in 1998 to move to Mathematics and finally IER. He leaves behind a widow Frances (also a member of Warwick staff in IT Services) and a son Gareth.

Keith will be very much missed.